Partial results released by Rwanda's electoral commission put incumbent President Paul Kagame on track to secure some 98 percent of votes in Friday's election. The win would grant him a third term in office.
With more than 80 percent of the results tallied, President Paul Kagame looks to have earned an expected victory over two little-known rivals. His win extends his time in office to 17 years.
"We think that at this level, tomorrow it will be the same result - no change after having counted 100 percent (of votes)," said National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman Kalisa Mbanda. The NEC posted the preliminary national results on its Twitter account.
The other two presidential candidates, opposition politician Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green party and independent Phillipe Mpayimana, barely managed to scrape together just over one percent of total votes. Friday's elections were the first in which the opposition Green Democratic party had appeared on the ballot. The election board had disqualified a third candidate, Diane Rwigara, ahead of Friday's vote for allegedly failing to meet the necessary requirements to run for office.
Long before Rwandans went to the polls, the outcome in Kagame's favor was seen as a sealed deal, as critics have accused the president of undermining the free election process.
Electoral authorities estimated turnout in Friday's elections to be at 97 percent of 6.9 million eligible voters. Roughly 12 million people live in Rwanda.
Praised and criticized
Kagame became the country's de facto leader after his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels halted a 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people. Lawmakers formally appointed Kagame as president in 2000 before he was elected by voters for the first time in 2003 by an overwhelming majority.
He has received international praise for helping the nation peacefully transition away from years of genocide and rebuilding the economy and vowed to continue the country's economic growth in a televised speech after initial results were released on Friday.
"This is another seven years to take care of issues that affect Rwandans and ensure that we become real Rwandans who are (economically) developing," Kagame said.
However, critics and human rights groups accuse Kagame of supressing the political opposition, as well as stifling freedom of speech in the east African country. He has been accused of jailing, exiling and even assassinating his critics.
In 2015, 98 percent of Rwandans approved a constitutional reform enabling Kagame to compete for a third term in office. Under the measure, Kagame could stay in power until 2034 if he continues to be elected.
cmb/gsw (Reuters, afp, AP)