Kagame to face two challengers in Rwanda vote

Paul Kagame is bidding for a fourth term in office (Fayez Nureldine)
Paul Kagame is bidding for a fourth term in office (Fayez Nureldine)

Rwandan President Paul Kagame will face two challengers in next month's election, according to a provisional list published Thursday.

National Electoral Commission chief Oda Gasinzigwa named Kagame, Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party and independent Philippe Mpayimana as candidates for the July 15 vote.

Both Habineza and Mpayimana were also the only candidates authorised to stand against Kagame in the last election in 2017.

Gasinzigwa said in an announcement on state television that a total of nine applications from potential candidates had been received.

The highest-profile name missing from the provisional list was Diane Rwigara, leader of the People Salvation Movement and an outspoken Kagame critic, who had also been disqualified from the 2017 election.

"Instead of providing a criminal record statement as required by the electoral commission, she instead provided a copy of a court judgement," Gasinzigwa said, adding that Rwigara had also failed to provide a document proving she is of Rwandan origin.

"On the requirement for 600 signature endorsements, she did not provide at least 12 signatures from eight districts," she added.

She said most of the other unsuccessful applicants had also failed to meet the 600 signature requirement.

A final list of candidates is due on June 14.

Rwigara was disqualified in 2017 over accusations she forged the signatures of supporters for her application.

The 42-year-old was arrested, charged with forgery and inciting insurrection and detained for more than a year before being released and acquitted in 2018.

Kagame, Rwanda's de facto ruler since the 1994 genocide and president since 2000, has won three elections with more than 90 percent of the vote and is widely expected to win again in July.

Rwanda holds both presidential and parliamentary elections on July 15 after the government decided last year to synchronise the dates for the votes.

- 'Inside the game' -

Habineza won just 0.45 percent of the vote in 2017 and his party claimed two seats in parliament.

The 47-year-old is a former member of Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), but defected in 2009.

He fled to Sweden in 2010 after the unsolved death of his party's vice president, but said he returned in 2012 to fight for democracy in his home country.

He has dismissed accusations his candidacy is a front to appease Western donors, telling AFP in March: "You need to be inside the game, fighting the game."

Mpayimana, who is now serving as a senior expert in the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement, scored 0.72 percent in his 2017 attempt.

Kagame has often been praised for rebuilding the country after the genocide three decades ago that killed around 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi.

But rights groups accuse the government of widespread abuses to silence the opposition including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and unlawful detentions.

In the run-up to this year's vote, Rwandan courts had already rejected appeals from prominent opposition figures Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire to remove previous convictions that effectively bar them from standing.

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