Presidential campaigns officially end Thursday morning, 24 hours to the opening of polls across Rwanda.
The three candidates vying for the country’s top seat wrapped up their respective campaigns in the capital Kigali yesterday, with incumbent President Paul Kagame, of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Inkotanyi, addressing arguably the biggest crowd on the campaign trails – in Bumbogo Sector, Gasabo District. Some estimates put the crowd at half a million people, dwarfing previous records witnessed in Rubavu and Musanze districts.
Frank Habineza, of the opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, held his last rally in Kigali’s business hub of Nyabugogo as well as spontaneous stops in downtown Kigali late Wednesday, while Philippe Mpayimana, an independent, addressed voters outside Amahoro National Stadium in Gasabo District on the final full day of campaign.
“The campaigns have been smooth and successful,” Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), said.
Munyaneza was particularly pleased that the last two weeks were almost entirely incident-free.
“In the first week there were a few cases related to disagreements between some of the candidates (Habineza and Mpayimana) and local leaders, but the issues were ironed out and the last two weeks have particularly gone smoothly.”
In the early days of the campaigns, there were back-and-forth accusations between the two aspirants and some local leaders, with the former reporting that they had been barred from holding rallies at certain sites, while the latter insisted they had either not been notified beforehand or the locations were out of bounds for campaign rallies.
According to electoral rules, candidates were not allowed to hold political rallies at certain public installations such as schools and marketplaces.
Arrests, provisional releases
In some instances, local leaders, including the Mayor of Rubavu District in Western Province, Jeremie Sinamenye, were arrested over the incidents.
On Tuesday, Sinamenye and a sector leader in the district were provisionally released by the National Public Prosecution Authority about a week after they were arrested on charges of obstructing campaign activities involving candidate Mpayimana.
“The case is not closed as investigations are still ongoing,” Prosecution spokesman Faustin Nkusi said yesterday.
Over the last couple of days, district and sector leaders in different parts of the country were seen at Habineza and Mpayimana’s rallies, officially welcoming the opposition candidates to their jurisdictions before the latter started addressing the voters.
Local Government minister Francis Kaboneka hailed Rwandans on their “mature conduct” during the campaigns and urged similar conduct on the Election Day.
“The campaigns were peaceful and, other than a few cases that happened during the first couple of days, all the candidates promoted their manifestoes freely, anywhere in the country,” he said.
Speaking to our reporters yesterday, both Mpayimana and Habineza said they were happy with how the campaigns had gone.
Meanwhile, Police spokesperson Theos Badege told The New Times that only two accidents – both of which were minor – had been recorded throughout the campaign period.
He said the first incident took place in Nyamagabe during the first week of the campaigns, while the other one was recorded in Nyagatare.
“One was a case of a fatigued driver, while the other was due to the mechanical condition of a vehicle.”
Asked what measures were deployed to avert potential stampede during Kagame’s rallies that attracted at least 100,000 people on each occasion, Badege said the candidate’s campaign worked closely with local administrations and security organs to ensure that rallies were organised in a way that did not compromise people’s safety.
“The weak, including the elderly and disabled, were given special attention; this was one of the specific measures that helped ensure smooth management of crowds”.
A couple of Kagame’s rallies attracted more than 250,000 people, with his final rally yesterday in Bumbogo, Gasabo District pulling as many as half a million people.
No more campaigning
Meanwhile, Munyaneza said he expected voters and members of the public in general to observe the electoral rules and desist from any campaign activities past 6a.m Thursday morning.
“We don’t expect to see any partisan activities past that time,” he said. Also prohibited after 6a.m today until after the elections is any display of campaign materials and slogans in support of a candidate. “We expect that people will not be putting on clothes with campaign messages or drive their cars with stickers promoting certain candidates.”
As the candidates were ending their campaign trails on Wednesday in Rwanda, Diasporan voters were preparing to cast their votes on Thursday, with voters in China and other Asian countries the first to go to the polls due to time zone differences.
Polls in the Diaspora were due to open at 7a.m and close at midnight local time. “Diaspora voters have more hours to cast their ballots because we wanted to facilitate every eligible citizen there to exercise their right to vote; even those with tricky work shifts will have a chance to vote,” Munyaneza said.
More than 44,000 Diasporans will cast their votes today from 98 polling stations, up from about 17,000 voters in the 2010 presidential poll.
Munyaneza said NEC did not set up polling stations in Burundi and DR Congo owing to the security challenges in the neighbouring countries. However, he said the commission has been facilitating Rwandan citizens in those countries to obtain permission to vote from the nearest polling sites inside Rwanda.
Kagame, who’s widely expected to win this week’s poll, has traditionally swept the Diaspora vote, winning 96.7 per cent of votes cast in 2010.
Overall, some 6.8 Rwandans will participate in the poll, 25 per cent of whom are first-time voters. Women constitute 54 per cent of the electorate, while 45 per cent are youth.