The Legitimacy Of The Rwandan Election


On the 5th of August, Rwanda’s electoral commission announced that President Paul Kagame won his third term in office following having received 98.63% of the votes. Many believe that Kagame’s fierce levels of support come from having overseen the end of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda is a small landlocked country in Central-East Africa, and Kagame has been its president since 2000. There has also been a growing number of people who believe that Kagame’s campaign was not a legitimate one due to reports that his opposition was silenced and intimidated. In addition to this, while Rwanda has often been praised for its economic development, there have been a number of inquiries into human rights abuses by the state.

Kagame too is aware of the critics who have questioned the legitimacy of his ascent to power, to which he stated, “This election was criticized so much due to me continuing to be your leader, especially people from outside the country because they oppose the will of Rwandans. But Rwandans have shown that it was not manipulated by anyone but their own will.” However, one of the critics of Kagame has been its longtime ally, the United States. In response to the recent election, the U.S State Department issued a statement saying that they were “concerned by the lack of transparency in determining the eligibility of prospective candidates.”  There were two other candidates running in opposition to Kagame, and three others who were barred from running for allegedly not meeting the quota of signatories that was needed. USA Today reports that there were a number of complaints made by the media in Rwanda that Kagame’s campaign utilized various scare tactics and blatant harassment in order to intimidate the opposing parties. As BBC News reports, many of Kagame’s opponents have referred to him as “the latest in a long line of authoritarian rulers in Africa.”

Evidently, there comes to light significant issues around the legitimacy of Kagame’s campaign. As the U.S State Department had previously stated, there is definitely a need for greater transparency around election and campaign processes. Furthermore, inquiries into Rwanda’s human rights record may identify areas for additional investigation. There is undoubtedly room for skepticism in analyzing a result that lends less than two percent of the votes to opposing parties. Under Rwanda’s multi-party democratic presidential system, the third term that was afforded to Kagame is unprecedented. Many believe that he was able to secure this position by exploiting anti-genocide legislation in order to shut down his opponents.

Rwanda’s recent election, although on the surface a reflection of the overwhelming amount of support for Kagame, has undertones of corruption and manipulation. It is imperative that elections are fair and genuine to ensure first, that the civilians of a state are being governed through a validly elected representative, and secondly, that the sanctity of the plane of international relations is not compromised by countries that have had illegitimately selected leaders.

Samadhi Pelenda
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