Rwandans voted Friday in a presidential election widely expected to give President Paul Kagame a third term in office.
“We need a good leader in our country now to continue to secure the country, to help the people of Rwanda and to continue to develop the country for the next seven years,” said Kagame supporter Joseph Zorondera after he cast his ballot at the Mbandazi Primary School primary school outside Kigali.
Voting was calm as people slowly trickled into the school nestled in the hilly outskirts of the sprawling capital city, casting ballots in different classrooms.
“Everything is going well in each room,” said Valerian Musengamana, the polling station chief. “The people are very happy with the activities of the election. They are really satisfied.”
In Photos: Rwanda election
The East African Community has international observers monitoring the polls. The European Union decided not to send a team of observers. At mid-day, representatives of local observer missions told VOA they hadn’t encountered any significant issues and that the voting appeared to be progressing smoothly.
Opposition presidential candidate Frank Habineza, of the Green Party, told VOA that some of his party’s observers had been denied access to polling stations but, after informing the National Election Commission, 95 percent of them were permitted to monitor the voting process.
Habineza is one of two challengers President Paul Kagame faces in Kagame's bid for a third term. Independent Philippe Mpayimana is also on the ballot.
Few of their supporters would accept to be interviewed at the polls.
“I chose [the Green] party simply because of its good platform,” said voter Charles Ndamage, with electoral commission officials watching nearby. “The manifesto presented by Habineza was very interesting to me. For instance, the fact that he wants to develop the country by reducing the step between rich people and poor people.”
Nine of the 11 political parties permitted to register in Rwanda have endorsed Kagame. Four other presidential hopefuls were disqualified by the electoral commission. The government and ruling party have brushed off allegations from human rights groups that authorities have restricted freedom of expression and stifled political opposition.
Kagame has been in power for 17 years. He is widely credited with stabilizing the country after a 1994 genocide.
“They [the opposition candidates] are good but …I don’t think any of them will do better than Paul Kagame. Because we have seen for the last few years that he has been on, the changes. It’s really a big change. It’s obvious,” said voter Imelda Batamoliza.
His supporters point to developments like improved roads, more communities connected to clean water, and recently built schools. A 2015 constitutional referendum, approved by 98 percent of voters, could allow Kagame to remain in power until 2034.
His supporters told VOA they aren’t looking for a president for life.
“At the end of the [new] seven-year term of his excellency Paul Kagame, someone will continue after him,” voter Zorondera said.
Rwanda’s electoral commission is expected to release official poll results over the weekend.