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Paul Kagame wins presidential poll by a landslide

Storyline:National News, World

Incumbent leader extends 17 years in power after crushing opponent amid allegations of political repression.

 Rwanda’s incumbent leader Paul Kagame has sealed a landslide victory in presidential elections, granting him a third term in office and extending his 17 years in power.

With 80 percent of votes accounted for, the 59-year-old former guerrilla leader secured 98.66 percent, the National Electoral Commission’s Executive secretary Charles Munyaneza told a news conference.

“We expect that even if we get 100 percent of votes, there will not be any change,” he said.

Kagame has won international praise for presiding over a peaceful and rapid economic recovery in the east African nation since the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 people were killed.

But he has also faced mounting criticism for what rights groups say are widespread human rights abuses, a muzzling of independent media and suppression of political opposition.

About seven million people were registered to vote in the polls to pick a president who will lead the country for the next seven years.

The electoral board expected turnout to top 90 percent in elections that fielded two challengers.

Kagame, who cast his vote in Kigali’s Rugunga polling station earlier on Friday, said he would work to sustain economic growth.

“This is another seven years to take care of issues that affect Rwandans and ensure that we become real Rwandans who are [economically] developing,” he said in a speech broadcast live on television.

He won the last election in 2010 with 93 percent of the vote.

Although Kagame is believed to be widely popular, international rights observers have expressed concern over the political environment in which voting took place.

Al Jazeea’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Kigali, said the ruling party claims that high turnout reflects its popularity.

“But opposition says people don’t have much choice and [the high turnout] reflects a climate of fear and oppression,” he said.

Sarah Jackson, deputy director for Amnesty International’s East Africa office, had called on the international community to remain watchful before and during the election.

“In the immediate run-up to the elections, Rwanda’s international partners with a presence in the country should continue to closely monitor the situation and speak out about any violations they observe,” she said in an email.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) were reported to have sent observers to Friday’s election, the final results of which are expected to be announced within a week.

Source: Aljazeera