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Opposition Calls for Delay in Rwandan Poll

  • Michael Onyiego

Two Rwandan opposition politicians are calling for postponement of the country's upcoming presidential election, citing what they say is political repression.

Political instability and violence in Rwanda has caused two opposition leaders to call for a delay in the country's August 9 presidential election.

In a statement, Victoire Ingabire of the United Democratic Forces and Bernard Ntaganda of PS Imberakuri say Rwanda's presidential poll would not be free and fair. Their statement said opposition leaders are victims of politically motivated arrests and trials, and the government has censored popular independent newspapers,"

The two opposition leaders, who say they will stand as candidates in the election, charged the national electoral commission is not neutral and its members all belong to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Ms. Ingabire's United Democratic Forces coalition was formed in exile and is not yet registered in Rwanda. Mr. Ntaganda founded PS Imberakuri, but his chairmanship has recently been in dispute.

Opposition Calls for Delay in Rwandan Poll

Opposition Calls for Delay in Rwandan Poll

The ruling party has nominated President Paul Kagame to run for re-election.

This is the second presidential election in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide. Originally a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Mr. Kagame, has ruled since it overthrew the Hutu-controlled government that planned the massacre.

President Kagame was elected in 2003 with 95 percent of the vote and has expressed confidence he will be re-elected in August.

Many international observers also say the government has repressed political opposition. A senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, Carina Tertsakian, says the government's tactics have guaranteed victory for President Kagame.

"If you speak to anybody in Rwanda, it is a foregone conclusion," Tertsakian said. "So everybody will tell you there is absolutely no doubt that the Rwandan Patriotic Front and President Paul Kagame will be re-elected. What we are seeing is concerted efforts on the part of the government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to completely marginalize and eventually exclude any meaningful opposition. That is what happened the last two times and that is what is happening again now."

Human Rights Watch criticism of the Rwandan Patriotic Front has drawn disapproval from Rwandan authorities. In April, Tertsakian was forced to leave Rwanda after immigration officials refused to renew her visa, citing irregularities in her paperwork.

The government has recently closed opposition and independent newspapers and jailed Ingabire, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front has been accused of harassment and intimidation of opposition members.

Rwanda's foreign minister said Saturday the reports of intimidation and harassment are inventions of the international media.

In addition to the political tension, a series of deadly grenade attacks have shaken Kigali's residents and added an element of fear.

The government has not yet responded to the demand to postpone the election, but during the past weeks has done little to acknowledge any challenges facing the poll or that any political crisis in the country exists.