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Rwandan Lawmaker Defends Senate Vote on Term Limits

FILE- Rwandan President Paul Kagame speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 24, 2014.

A Rwandan lawmaker says President Paul Kagame has been a good leader for the country and deserves to serve another term.

This comes after the Rwandan senate Tuesday unanimously endorsed constitutional amendments that would allow President Kagame to stay in office for another two decades.

Kagame, 58, has ruled Rwanda since his army ended the 1994 genocide and ousted Hutu extremists from power. The decision will now be put to a national referendum, where it is expected to win easy approval.

Margaret Nyagahurah, a member of the Rwandan senate, says parliament was simply honoring the wishes of more than 3.6 million eligible Rwandan voters who petitioned their lawmakers to change article 101 of the constitution. She says the country has had a rough time in its most recent history and cannot afford to experiment with new leaders.

“It is true that his (President Kagame’s) term ends in 2017, at the end, the people of Rwanda want President Kagame to continue leading this country. We’ve got a history. I don’t think the people of Rwanda are ready to take a chance on who is going to lead the country in the nearest future,” she said.

Nyagahurah said the constitution is made by the people of Rwanda and they can change it if they so wish.

She said Rwanda is going through a transition and the people want President Kagame to continue in office until they are assured that their country will not fall back to its dark days.

“There is no question in our country. Everybody wants this to happen. More than 60 percent of the electorate has requested this. As far as we know in this country everybody wants our president to continue leading the country at least in the nearest future,” Nyagahurah said.

The United States said Tuesday it expects President Kagame to step down at the end of his current term in 2017. State department spokesperson Mark Toner speaking Tuesday at the daily press briefing said the U.S. does not support those in position of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest.

Toner would not say whether the United States would consider reducing or even ending its foreign assistance to Rwanda if the government proceeds with its plan to allow President Kagame to stay in office beyond his current term which ends in 2017.

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.

He could only say that if President Kagame decides to remain in office, it could impact U.S.-Rwanda relations going forward.

Frank Habineza, leader of the small opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda said changing the constitution is a challenge to "sustainable peace and security."

Nyagahurah said while Habineza is entitled to his opinion, the parliament cannot ignore the voices of nearly 4 million Rwandans who have petitioned the lawmakers to vote to change the constitution.

“Frank Habineza is entitled to whatever he thinks. At the same time we are a democracy and we believe in the majority. Frank Habineza is one voice against I don’t know how many millions. He is entitled to what he is thinking. But at the same time we can’t disregard what almost 4 million people think about this,” she said.