Rwandan President Paul Kagame is now constitutionally eligible to rule until 2034 after a referendum on several amendments gained the support of more than 95 percent of the population, according to the official state results released late Saturday.
"We have seen the will of the people. It's clear that what the people want, they can achieve," said National Electoral Commission chief Kalisa Mbanda.
General, the provisional results indicate that the turnout is 98.28%. Yes: 98.13% and No: 1.71%. #RwandansDecide.— Electoral Commission (@RwandaElections) December 18, 201
Kagame could now potentially be in power for another 17 years.
"What is happening is the people's choice," he told reporters after casting his vote on Friday. The vote in favor of the constitutional changes received 98.4 percent. More than 6 million people voted according to the electoral authority.
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Kagame, 58, would now be able to run for president in 2017 for a seven-years term and then for two five-year terms after that finishes in 2024, potentially allowing him to rule until 2034.
He has been president since 2000, however, he has been the country’s top leader since his rebel group took over the capital, Kigali, in 1994, ousting Hutu extremists and ending years of ethnic civil war and genocide.
The United States and the European Union have been criticized the president over the constitutional changes and demanding he steps down. However, Kagame said he did not want to rule “forever” and has yet to decide whether he would run in the upcoming presidential elections in two years.
Leaders in African countries seeking to extend their time in office has come under scrutiny in recent months as such ambitions have drawn violence in countries like Burundi.
After President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek another term earlier this year and securing his third term in office in July, many called his move unconstitutional and took to the streets in months-long protests that have seen more than 400 killed and thousands injured.
Let's not bury Burundi in silence like we did Rwanda and many other conflicts thereafter.. pic.twitter.com/7BUfm1lxQJ— Lynette Ntuli (@MsNtuli) December 19, 201
Also, Zimbabwe's 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has held power since 1980, has been fending off possible successors as he has yet to announce his intent to leave office and could run for another eighth term in office.
Such tendencies by some African leaders promoted the United Nations to call for less “clinging to power”. “People around the world have expressed their concern about leaders who refuse to leave office when their terms end,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told an African Union summit.
“I share those concerns. Undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes should never be used to cling to power … I urge all leaders, in Africa and around the world, to listen to your people. Modern leaders cannot afford to ignore the wishes and aspirations of those they represent.”
#Rwandansdecide A resounding democratic YES to Unity, Stability and Progress. That's What Rwandans Stand For. Couldn't be louder!— Busingye Johnston (@BusingyeJohns) December 19, 201
However, in Rwanda’s case, while the president has been accused of crackdown on critical media and dissent, others say that he has maintained good governance and credit him with turning Rwanda from a war-torn, ethnically divided country to a united and successful nation.
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Mo Ibrahim, whose foundation monitors good governance across the African continent and awards an annual Ibrahim prize for achievement in African leadership, told the Observer earlier this year that
Kagame’s efforts to achieve a third term were a “pity”, Mo Ibrahim, whose foundation monitors good governance across the African continent, told the Observer earlier this year.
He added, however, that “there is nothing that can stop the emerging power of entrepreneurship, energy and new political forces across this continent. Change is happening and no one leader trying to hang on to an extra few years of power can stop this change.”
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