Rwandans Hit The Polls In Presidential Election; Kagame Favored To Win

Rwandans are preparing to vote for their country's presidential election as campaigning comes to an end. Paul Kagame, the incumbent president and candidate for the ruling party, has gained massive popularity from both ethnic Tutsis and Hutus who recognise his leading role in boosting the country's economy. But more and more people are questioning his record on democracy amidst claims of a violent crackdown on opposition supporters in the run up to the election. Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons reports from the capital Kigali.

President Paul Kagame speaks to Rwandans on his election campaign stop in Nyagatare, Rwanda, Thrusday, Aug. 5, 2010. Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been conducting a high energy campaign over the past two weeks and is generally thought to be almost assured of re-election on August 9.
Voters in Rwanda went to the polls Monday in the country's second presidential election since the 1994 genocide.

Polls opened at 12 a.m. ET and will close at 12 p.m. ET. While results aren't expected until Wednesday, President Paul Kagame is expected to retain power.

Under Kagame, who became president of Rwanda in 2000, the country's gross domestic product has doubled in the past decade. The country is experiencing a construction boom, especially in Rwanda's capital of Kigali, which is steadily turning it into a modern city. The organization Transparency International recently ranked Rwanda as the least corrupt nation in the region.

Rwanda also boasts of the highest number of female members of parliament in the world, as school attendance increases and child mortality declines.

But even with the impressive record, there are issues that cloud Kagame's presidency.

Earlier this year there were several unexplained grenade attacks in the country. Army Lt. General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fell out with Kagame and went into exile in South Africa, was shot in the stomach outside his home.

He survived, with media reports quoting the general's family as saying it was an attempt on his life sanctioned by Rwanda's government. A few days later, Jean Leonard Rugambage, a journalist who claimed to have evidence linking the government to the failed assassination, was shot and killed outside his house.

A few weeks later, a day after he was reported missing, the body of Andre Kagwa, deputy president of the opposition Democratic Green Party, was found at a river bank with his head almost completely severed.



Meanwhile, human rights groups and other critics are already calling Monday's elections a sham, saying Kagame lacks real opposition. There are three opposition parties in the race for the presidency but critics say that they are allied to the ruling party and are just props to show democracy in the country.

Victoire Ingabire, a leading opposition personality who came back to the country after years abroad, was barred from registering her United Democratic Forces party and is currently awaiting trial for -- among other charges -- denying the 1994 genocide.

In the run-up to the election, the Rwanda media high council de-registered about 30 media outlets, saying they did not meet the standard operating requirements laid out by the the commission. The action was a further limiting of the media in Rwanda.

Kagame criss-crossed the country on the campaign trail, meeting with thousands of jubilant citizens. But in a country where freedom of expression is almost non-existent, it is difficult to gauge if the discontent among the critics is also growing among the masses -- a situation that could potentially plunge the country back into chaos

source: CNN