President Paul Kagame’s successor does not necessarily have to come from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a top official has revealed, after the president hinted that his third seven-year term could be his last.
At the recently concluded RPF Congress, Kagame asked his party to pursue a transition in the next seven years, and overcome the challenges that made them urge him to stay on.
The succession has been a subject of intense debate, with the president revealing that he had faced a lot of pressure from both those that wanted him gone and those who wanted him to stay in power.
According to Tito Rutaremara, an elder and veteran of the RPF liberation struggle, the task for transition of power does not mean that a successor has to come from RPF.
“If there is another party with the necessary leadership qualities, why not if that person is a Munyarwanda? Even if he is not in RPF but is a Rwandan and capable he should be supported because RPF is pro-Rwandan. RPF will support anyone from another party and is more capable. We work for Rwanda,” he said.
Mr Rutaremara debunked the notion that RPF lacks strong leaders it can front to succeed Kagame.
He argued that the party has many strong people, although none is “as capable as President Kagame.”
He declined to provide examples of the “capables” in RPF that can lead the country, and even dismissed the notion of grooming a successor to Kagame.
“We do not need to incubate a leader. The RPF has an ideology and political programme, and through that people progress. There are institutions through which leaders work and become noticed,” Mr Rutaremara said.
The president made the same request to RPF in 2013, tasking a team that included Mr Rutaremara to come up with a transition formula based largely on the pillars of “change, continuity and stability.”
According to Mr Rutaremara, the party decided at the time that the country was still in need of the president, despite his request.
“The president asked us to think of change and continuity but when we realised that the president still had much work to do, we told him that we still needed his services,” he said.
President Kagame was officially endorsed by the RPF to run for a third seven-year term, garnering 1,929 votes out of the total 1,930. He presented his nomination papers to the electoral commission last Thursday.
He asked his party to “do things differently” in the next seven years so that Rwanda gets “some form of transition”.
The incumbent was endorsed by a host of other coalition parties at the Congress.
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However, the leader of PS Imberakuri, Christine Mukabunani declined to endorse any candidate even though her party will not present a candidate for president. Only the Green Party has declared Frank Habineza, the party’s president, as their candidate to take on President Kagame.
There are four independent candidates: Diane Rwigara, Philippe Mpayimana, Fred Barafinda Sekikubo and Gilbert Mwenedata.
The National Electoral Commission closed receiving nominations on June 23 and a final list of qualified candidates will be announced on July 7, a week before campaigns kick off.
President Kagame is largely expected to ease to victory like he did in the 2003 and 2010 elections. Kagame, who has led Rwanda since 2000, became eligible for an additional seven-year term — and then two five-year terms following a referendum in 2015 that amended the Constitution.
He became the sixth presidential hopeful to present his credentials to the National Electoral Commission on Thursday.
Independent candidate Diane Rwigara, presented her credentials last week while Philippe Mpayimana presented his a few hours before president Kagame.
Fred Barafinda Sekikubo and Gilbert Mwenedata presented their nomination papers on July 12th, together with the Greens’ Frank Habineza.
All independent candidates managed to garner the 600 signatures — a minimum of 12 from each district — as required by the electoral law.
However, Mr Mpayimana’s file lacked his birth certificate and criminal record clearance certificate, which are some of the documents required for presidential aspirants to present.
Elections are slated for August 4.
The body presented a provisional list of qualified candidates - Kagame and Habineza - on June 27, with all the independent candidates told they failed to gather valid signatures. They were given five days to re-submit their bids. The final list will be presented on July 7.
In a press briefing, President Kagame responded to concerns from independent candidates, Rwigara and Mpayimana, who claimed that their supporters and representatives had been harassed by local residents and government authorities.
“It is wrong for any presidential candidate to be harassed. I say this as a candidate and president. Those who harass other candidates’ supporters should be held accountable for their actions,” President Kagame added.
He also addressed the issue of his successor, saying that determining his successor is an important factor as there are individuals within the RPF that “can take up leadership”.