By Sudarsan Raghavan
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; A07
KIGALI, RWANDA -- Even before the polls had closed Monday, the supporters of Rwandan President Paul Kagame were celebrating.
Outside this capital city's national stadium, several large white trucks carrying crates of beer waited. "It's for the victory party," declared a soldier at the gate. "The president will arrive later this evening."
The night before, Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front had sent a text message to thousands of supporters and journalists, inviting them to the massive party on Monday evening, when Rwanda's electoral commission was scheduled to release preliminary results. The message promised food, drinks and music.
Kagame is expected to win another seven-year term by a landslide in only the second election since the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 people. The elections have been tainted by accusations of political repression, murder and censorship, accusations that Kagame has denied. On Monday, shortly after he cast his vote at a school, the 52-year-old guerrilla leader-turned-politician declared that the elections were democratic. "I see no problems, but there are some people who choose to see problems where there are not," Kagame said.
Many Rwandans interviewed Monday chose to ignore the controversies surrounding their president, who his critics say is nothing but another strongman on the continent. His supporters tout Kagame's accomplishments, such as a growing economy and more rights for women. But they said they were voting for him chiefly because of the stability he has brought to a country that was on the brink 16 years ago and is still haunted by its horrific past. Today, Rwanda is considered to be among the least corrupt nations in Africa.
"I voted for Paul Kagame because he has brought economic development and political maturity to Rwanda," said Jane Mukamfizi, 52, an accountant. "He has a vision to lead Rwanda to further development."
None of the nearly dozen people interviewed said they had voted for the opposition.
To be sure, Rwandans had few choices. The government banned two opposition parties from taking part in the elections, leaving three former allies of Kagame, who support his views and were hardly credible opponents. Critics have called them "sham candidates" designed to create the veneer of democracy.
Other opposition leaders have been arrested or intimidated. Last month, the deputy leader of one of the parties not permitted to take part in Monday's elections was brutally murdered, his head nearly severed from his body. An American lawyer for a jailed opposition candidate was also arrested and later released.