Analysts said Rwanda’s electorate was expected to vote overwhelmingly for Kagame, partly because of the growth and stability he has delivered during his decade in power and also because of a crackdown on rivals and critics.
Human rights groups said the election campaign was marred by repression and violence against Kagame’s critics. Analysts said his three registered rivals are weak and linked closely to his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front.
Three outspoken would-be candidates accuse the government of preventing them from registering to run in the election.
But analysts expected most of Rwanda’s neighbours and the donor community will be happy enough with a Kagame victory.
Despite being landlocked and resource-poor, Rwanda is seen as a rising star in Africa for donors and investors and Kagame has been feted as a visionary leader and African icon.
Polling staff displayed empty ballot boxes to queues of voters in Karembure, 10 km (6 miles) outside the capital Kigali, before ushering them into a partitioned marquee at 6.15 a.m. (5:15 a.m. British time).
“I think Kagame will win because he developed the country and brought security to the whole country,” said Floridine Umurenge, a young unemployed mother of two, clutching a baby and her voter card.
VOTING FOR THE PRESIDENT
“I came to vote because this is my right, and it is the right for all Rwandans. It shows there is democracy. I am here to vote for the president,” said Emmanuel Nihizimana, the local chief or “Umudugudu,” after casting his ballot.
Kagame assumed the presidency in 2000 but has been in de facto power since his rebel army swept to power and ended the slaughter of 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu in 1994.
The genocide was spawned, in part, by the surge of radical ethnic politics that followed the birth of multiparty democracy in the central African country in the early 1990s.
Justin Inzabimana, an RPF election observer, told Reuters people arrived long before the polls opened across the country and described the event as quiet and orderly. Other observers also told Reuters that polling stations were peaceful.
“We’ve got some reports from a couple of teams in different provinces. It’s premature to say anything yet but things seem to be going according to the process,” said one international observer, who declined to be named.
Some 5.2 million Rwandans were eligible to vote and donors expected the election to be more transparent than a legislative vote in 2008 after the introduction of a revised electoral code.
But human rights advocates and some analysts bemoaned what they saw as a forbidding atmosphere for democratic expression.
“The political environment ahead of today’s presidential election has been riddled by a series of worrying actions taken by the government of Rwanda, which appear to be attempts to restrict the freedom of expression, free press and association,” Ndung’u Wainaina, executive secretary of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict, said in a statement.
The polls close at 3 p.m. Results will be posted outside all polling stations with a preliminary tally due by Wednesday at the latest. Reuters