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Rwandan Lawmaker Defends Constitutional Revision

  • James Butty

FILE - Rwandan President Paul Kagame attends session at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York, Sept. 22, 2014.

FILE - Rwandan President Paul Kagame attends session at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York, Sept. 22, 2014.

A Rwandan member of parliament said the process of rebuilding Rwanda into a normal society following the country’s 1994 genocide has been delicate and costly, and President Paul Kagame has been a good steward during that period.

As a result, parliamentarian Juliana Kantengwa told VOA, the citizens have appealed to parliament to change Article 101 of the constitution to allow President Kagame to seek a third term because they do not want to risk experimenting with another leader during this period.

Kantengwa was responding to U.S. State Department criticism last Friday of the Rwandan parliament’s decision to set up a Constitutional Reform Commission that may amend or remove presidential term limits thereby allowing President Kagame to seek a third term in 2017.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said while the U.S. respects the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent, it does not support those in position of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest.

“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife – as we’ve seen in Burundi. And this is often just a first step down a perilous path,” Kirby said.

But Kantengwa said the parliament was simply honoring the wishes of more than 3.6 million eligible Rwandan voters who petitioned their lawmakers during a nationwide consultative tour to change Article 101 of the constitution.

She said it’s not President Kagame who is asking for the constitutional changes, but rather the citizens are demanding he stays on as president during Rwanda’s reconstruction period. Kantengwa said members of parliament are under oath to serve their constituencies.

“When we see numbers increase up to 3.6 million and more, that’s slightly more than half of the total voting adult population of Rwanda. So as parliament, we were compelled to respond to what the citizens were doing,” he said.

Kantengwa said parliament received “massive” information from the people during the nationwide consultation.

“So we resolved to pass an act of parliament requesting the executive to establish a Constitutional Review Commission whose sole purpose is to support parliament to carry on the review process,” Kantengwa said.

She said parliament and the Rwandan people have been following every procedure as laid down in their constitution.

Kantengwa said the cost of restoring Rwanda back into a normal society has been heavy; the process has been delicate and painstaking and citizens just don’t want to risk it.

“We’ve had presidents before and we’ve seen what leadership is like -- bad and good. We’ve experienced good leadership under President Kagame, an unprecedented good leadership. President Kagame is not too old to continue; we want to push him to continue until we get ourselves assured that we’ve passed that transition stage whereby we are unlikely to fall back to where we have come from,” Kantengwa said.

She said the people would not accept President Kagame making a request to parliament to change the constitution. On the contrary, she said, it’s the citizens who are demanding he stays on as president.

“So it’s not him in the middle of the game who is trying to change. It’s the citizens who are demanding him to go back; it’s the citizens who want him to carry on,” Kantengwa said.

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