KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is expected to win a resounding victory in Monday’s election, partly due to the growth and stability he has delivered since the 1994 genocide and partly because of a crackdown on rivals.
Rights groups and foreign diplomats say signs of repression have marred the runup to the poll, although donors expect it to be peaceful and say the revised electoral code will make it more transparent than in 2003 when Kagame won 95 percent of the vote.
Kagame is applauded locally and internationally for rebuilding institutions, promoting women, boosting agricultural output and tripling household income.
His two main rivals in the presidential race offer little genuine alternative, having spent 16 years as part of the ruling coalition led by his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
“RPF is strong, it is organised, it has planned over a long time, historically it has been with the people to resolve challenging issues and therefore that results in a kind of overwhelming support,” Kagame told reporters on his last day of campaigning.
“I have no regrets about it, I make no apologies.”
Rights group Amnesty International says the poll will take place in a climate of fear.
Registration troubles prevented three outspoken parties from fielding candidates. Two party chiefs were arrested on charges including stirring ethnic hatred and genocide ideology. Opponents say they have been threatened and intimidated.
Two newspapers were suspended in April, a critical journalist was shot in the head in June and a senior member of the Democratic Green Party was found nearly beheaded in July.
Some analysts say that although Rwandans would like more choice, they are haunted by the genocide, in which gangs of Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
“A lot of Rwandans would want him (Kagame) to be a lot more open, and like to see more choices and feel more consulted but I don’t see any evidence that they want radical regime change,” author Philip Gourevitch told Reuters.
“I’m afraid I can’t see how a candidate like Victoire Ingabire, who is clearly identified with the old Hutu Power politics, would be healthy for this country at this time,” said Gourevitch, who wrote “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families,” a book about the genocide.
Ingabire, a former accountant who lived in exile in the Netherlands for 16 years, returned to Rwanda earlier this year to run for office. Her name will not appear on the ballot paper.
The genocide was spawned, in part, by the surge of radical ethnic politics that followed the birth of multi-party democracy in Rwanda in the early 1990s.
“Kagame is afraid that widening the democratic space would allow in wolves in sheepskins,” said a western diplomat.
Foreign diplomats said Kagame’s real challenge comes from within his Tutsi cadres in the ruling party and army and that his war on graft, which has seen former political associates locked up, is a way of sidelining possible threats to his power.
Since the beginning of the year top army officials have fled the country, been arrested, demoted or shot in mysterious circumstances.
Kagame rejects allegations of a rift with his brothers in arms. “What I know does not suggest any kind of crisis at all. There are differences in terms of opinions like anywhere else in the world,” he said.
But exiled army and intelligence top brass are sounding increasingly belligerent and say Rwandans should stand up and fight for their freedom.
“It boils down to a struggle for power among the party’s inner cabal that could end up becoming very nasty. In private, RPF officials have told me: ‘This is probably the biggest challenge we have faced as a party in many years,’” independent regional analyst Jason Stearns said on his Congo Siasa blog.