Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame remains the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front’s favourite candidate in the 2017 presidential elections as a campaign by party members for a constitutional amendment to remove term limit gains momentum.
Various groups of people last week continued to deliver petitions to parliament, calling on Members of Parliament to amend Article 101 of the Constitution to remove presidential term limit.
During the presentation of the 2015/2016 budget last week, MPs asked Minister for Finance and Economic Planning Claver Gatete if he had budgeted for a possible referendum in the forthcoming fiscal year.
According to Safari Begumisa, an MP, legislators wanted to know because many citizens have been approaching the House with petitions, which make it possible for a referendum ahead of 2017 polls.
“We wanted to know if the minister had budgeted for a referendum because many people have been asking us. Parliament so far has received thousands of petitions from groups or associations of people with similar interests. If you see such people coming up, or telling us the same thing wherever we go, then you know it is a serious national issue, which requires to be budgeted for,” Mr Begumisa said.
Mr Gatete responded to the question, by noting that the budget in its current state is a draft but more planning will be done before the 2015/16 national budget is presented to parliament.
On Wednesday, a team of citizen’s representatives from western district of Rubavu delivered 5,000 signatures and national ID photocopies of residents of the district demanding an amendment to the Constitution to remove term limit.
Receiving the petitions, Speaker of the Lower Chamber of Deputies Donatille Mukabalisa said the House has received more than two million signed letters from citizens demanding a constitutional change.
“When the right time comes, we will give you feedback on your requests,” Ms Mukabalisa told the Rubavu residents.
According to the Parliamentary Outreach Department, so far, over 30 different interest groups, including farmer’s cooperative societies, students, women’s, youth and religious groups have delivered petitions with over two million signatures to parliament, calling for a change to the Constitution.
Last week, a group of faith-based organisations delivered a petition to legislators, signed by clerics from 40 different religious groupings based in Kigali, mainly Pentecostal and Muslim organisations.
The Roman Catholic church and the Anglican Church are yet to commit themselves on the 2017 debate.
The majority of the faith-based groups that have signed the petitions are under the Association of Pentecostal Churches in Rwanda (ADEPR) and associations of Muslims in Rwanda.
Bishop Innocent Nzeyimana, head of the Forum of Churches in Nyarugenge district, said the faith-based groups reached a common ground to call for the amendment of the Constitution after they evaluated what the country and believers want.
Apart from petitioning the House, the groups also wrote to President Kagame asking him to be ready to contest if the Constitution is amended.
“After lengthy consultations, we unanimously agreed that President Kagame as someone who restored peace in this country should be allowed to seek another term in office. Under him, the country made great strides in terms of development.
The cleric said church members evaluated what has been achieved since 2003 when President Kagame was officially elected to office and realised that he deserves another term to accomplish what he started, including Vision 2020.
Support from Muslims
Sheikh Kassim Nzanahayo Rajab, leader of the Council of Sheikhs, said Muslims signed the petition to call for constitutional amendment because they believe President Kagame restored dignity to Muslims.
“Muslims did not have a place in Rwanda in the past. We were not in decision making positions as we are today, there were no Muslims in the army or police. We were discriminated against at all levels but today all this has changed. President Kagame changed all this; today we have Muslims in decision-making positions. Muslims have not been left behind in the socio-economic development of the nation and that is why we are saying he should be allowed to contest again,” said Sheikh Nzanahayo.
According to the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda, the dominant religious group in Rwanda is the Roman Catholics, who represent 44 per cent of the resident population of the country.
The second most prevalent religious group are the Protestants (38 per cent), while other religion groups are made up of Adventists (12 per cent), Muslims (2 per cent) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (1 per cent). Christian religious groups represent 95 per cent of the population of Rwanda.
According to sources, the ruling RPF-Inkotanyi is running an underground campaign to encourage interest groups to push for constitutional amendment while it plays an outsider’s role.