KIGALI (Reuters) – A leading opponent of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on Friday called for a boycott of next month’s presidential elections because she and a number of would-be candidates have been barred from standing.
Victoire Ingabire, the outspoken head of the unregistered United Democratic Forces party who faces charges of crimes linked to genocide denial, told Reuters Kagame faces little competition and is set to easily secure a second seven-year term.
« I will not vote and I will ask the population ‘don’t vote’ because we know before the election who will win, » she said in an interview.
She said her absence on the ballot paper would render Kagame’s victory illegitimate.
Kagame is widely lauded outside Rwanda with restoring stability and rebuilding the central African nation in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, and for his bold ambition to transform Rwanda into a middle income country by 2020.
But his critics have frequently accused him of trampling on political and press freedoms. In the run-up to the poll, rights groups have said he is turning the screws on his opponents and showing signs of increasing repression.
« Elections do not mean democracy. If we want to start a democracy we have to allow an opposition to be active, » Ingabire said.
Kagame will compete against Damascene Ntawukuliryayo from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Prosper Higiro from the Liberal Party (PL) and Alvera Mukabaramba from the smaller Party of Progress and Concord (PPC).
All three registered candidates, Ingabire maintains, are « stooges » of Kagame and head « satellite » parties of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
Ingabire questioned the independence of the National Electoral Commission and said voters would be coerced into which way to vote.
UNLEVEL PLAYING FIELD
« We will have the same scenario like in 2003 because nothing has changed. He has no candidate to compete with him, » Ingabire said. « People vote because authorities push them to go to vote and show who they have to vote for. »
In 2003, Kagame won over 90 percent of the vote.
Kagame has in previous media interviews suggested a Western-style democracy is not automatically appropriate for a nation like Rwanda recovering from a traumatic social upheaval. Instead he points to the considerable progress in health, education and infrastructure.
But the gruesome murder this week of a senior member of another emerging opposition party, an attack on his former army chief and the slaying of a critical journalist have alarmed diplomats.
Rwanda firmly denies being linked to the attacks and says Ingabire broke laws aimed at avoiding a repeat of the genocide, including stoking ethnic hatred.
Official campaigning begins on July 20.