In a setback to the international community which lobbied heavily for a “no” vote, Rwandan citizens overwhelmingly gave a thumbs up to a third term option for President Paul Kagame.
Kagame, now completing his second term, was previously unable to seek an additional term according to the constitution.
The head of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), reporting results on Saturday, said that 98.4 percent of voters supported the proposed constitutional change. Over 98 percent of registered voters participated in the ballot exercise. Some 40,000 Rwandans in the diaspora also voted.
“The process has been peaceful mostly at the polling stations,” said Charles Munyaneza of the NEC. “Rwandans were very enthusiastic, and I think this is the first time that we have got that kind of voter turnout. We are impressed that youth, the students, really participated in their big numbers.”
Over six million Rwandans voted “yes” for the change while 100,863 voted “no,” he said.
The U.S. and European Union had earlier condemned the proposed amendment as undermining democracy in the central African country.
The EU delegation in Kigali on Friday lamented a lack of “sufficient time and space for debate” on the issue, with the date for the referendum announced on December 8 and the draft of the changes “only published publicly less than one day ahead of the vote.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby, called on Mr Kagame to honor his previous commitment to respect term limits.
“We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest,” he said.
Opposition groups, including the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, complained that they were not allowed to campaign against calls by millions of Rwandans who had petitioned parliament to amend the constitution.
In a letter to the media, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda said, “The National Electoral Commission also confirmed that campaigns were not permitted, meaning that the Party’s NO CHANGE campaign would be illegal. However, members of parliament were able to campaign for a YES vote. …
“The Democratic Green Party will continue the democratic struggle and ensure that Rwanda will have sustainable peace, security and development.”
But feedback from presumed voters on Twitter and other social media appeared wildly enthusiastic about the outcome.
“RwandansDecide” for a better life… That is why I will vote with a big YES,” posted a writer identified as Kambanda Noel.
“Rwandans can now expect to live almost 32 years longer than in 1990 and spend twice as long at school,” posted the writer by the name “Joel Ndoli Pierre”.
President Kagame was also quoted on Twitter, rebuking the naysayers: “Our actions do not correspond to the wishes of other nations. “ And Tahakabar Shaheed wrote: “Rwanda has come of age. It’s been a great walk of pain & tears & yet a great walk is ahead of Rwanda.