The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) confirmed President Paul Kagame Saturday June 17, as its flag bearer in the August elections.
The party had called an extraordinary national congress to endorse President Kagame who is also its chairman.
President Kagame swept the party primaries, from the grassroots to the provincial level. Upon his confirmation as party flagbearer, he will proceed to submit his ticket to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) before the June 23 deadline.
The Rwandan leader, who has been out of the country for a number of activities including attending the European Development Days on June 7 and 8 in Brussels and the G20-Africa Summit in Berlin on June 12-13, will now focus his energies back home as the country heads into the crucial election period.
Last weekend, President Kagame met the Rwandan diaspora in Europe in Gent, Belgium, where he encouraged the citizens to support the government back home and the development initiatives in place.
The Rwanda leader highlighted the achievements of the country and the investment opportunities in the East African country, urging Rwandans in the diaspora to take advantage of them.
“It is now clear to us that we are one, we are all Rwandans. This is what has brought us thus far, combined with our efforts as a people and the history of our country, which made us determined to ensure that our country does not fall back into its dark past.
“We cannot sit back and wait for someone else to come and solve our problems,” President Kagame told the country’s diaspora.
Ahead of the polls, President Kagame used the Rwanda Day, an annual event which happens across the globe, to win over the support of the diaspora, where he currently has the biggest opposition.
President Kagame told members of the Rwandan diaspora that Rwandans will fully fund this year’s election. The country has relied on donor aid to hold past elections.
“Our country will be going to polls in coming months but as you might be aware, in the past we used to depend on support from our friends, who this time around were starting to say that we have no money for elections in Rwanda,” he said.
“Our people sat down and said how much do we need? And they raised more than what is needed for the polls in one night,” he said.
Rwanda will spend at least $8 million on the polls.
Meanwhile, potential contenders to take on President Kagame in the presidential elections began submitting their bids to the electoral body last week.
Frank Habineza, the president and flag bearer of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Rwanda’s sole opposition party was the first to submit his documents as the exercise opened.
He was followed by independent candidates Gilbert Mwenedata and Fred Barafinda Sekikubo.
The two candidates alleged that their supporter were being threatened by local leaders.
“Our supporters are being targeted by local leaders with threats and intimidation. The same local leaders also serve as representatives of the ruling party, something we view as inappropriate,” said Mr Habineza.
He said that some of his supporters abandoned the party due to the threats.
Mr Habineza maintained that he has a chance in the August 4 polls, despite a predicted landslide win for President Kagame. Other key parties in the country have declared they will back the incumbent.
Not fielding candidates
The Social Democratic Party, the second largest party in Rwanda and the Liberal Party, which have been part of the ruling coalition, have rallied behind RPF and are therefore not fielding candidates.
Several other small parties including Parti Sociale-Imberakuri have also rallied behind RPF.
Mr Mwenedata, an independent candidate, shortly after submitting his bid to the electoral commission challenged the electoral body to serve the interests of Rwandans, not those of individuals.
“It is the duty of the electoral commission to ensure that this process is as smooth as possible and that all candidates will be accorded equal treatment as indicated in the constitution,” he said.
Mr Mwenedata also told journalists that he encountered challenges as he tried to raise the 600 signatures needed from independent candidates — at least 12 from each of the 30 districts.
“Local leaders made sure that the process did not go as smoothly,” said Mr Mwenedata, who in 2013 contested a parliamentary seat as an independent candidate but failed to raise the five per cent threshold.
Meanwhile, drama ensued when Mr Sekikubo, who had never declared his intentions to contest for presidency showed up at the electoral commission and announced that he was going to submit his application.
While the NEC was receptive to Mr Sekikubo, the seemingly incoherent 47-year-old failed to produce most of the required documents.
He was given a chance to bring the missing documents in the coming days.
More independent candidates are expected to submit their bids including 35-year-old Diane Shima Rwigara, and Philippe Mpayimana, a former journalist.
Nominations close on June 23. The NEC will announce the provisional list of candidates on June 27. The final list will be announced on July 7 after which campaigns will commence.
The opposition and independent candidates have decried the short campaign period, saying that it will favour the ruling party which has the resources to conduct campaigns in more than two districts at the same time.