Rwandans rush to vote for president

Rwanda electoral agents off load ballot boxes at Kakiro polling station in Kigali ahead of Monday's presidential election on August 8, 2010 in Kigali.

KIGALI, August 9, 2010 - Rwandans turned out in large numbers to vote in Monday's presidential election, many leaving home well before daybreak to form neat lines in front of spick and span polling stations.

People strode purposefully under wooden arches set up by the electoral commission to vote in schools decked out in the national colours of green blue and yellow and decorated with banana trees.

Germaine Mutetesi, a housemaid, arrived out of breath to vote in Kigali's Kimihurura district, insisting she had no time to talk as she had to "get back home for the housework".

Emmanuel Ndagijimana, a young domestic worker accompanying her and sporting a Las Vegas T-shirt, was also breathless.

"But it's important to come and choose the president," he said. Asked which candidate he would choose, he declined give a candidate's name.

President Paul Kagame, who has ruled Rwanda with an iron fist for 16 years and won the 2003 election with 95 percent of the vote, faced no serious opposition Monday and appeared certain of re-election.

But out of a dozen people questioned, nobody would reveal their choice.

"Rwandans are reserved by nature," commented Francois Byabarumwanzi, campaign manager for the Liberal Party.

"It's a bit difficult to tell you who I'll vote for," 18-year-old Richard Hakizimana, voting for the first time at the same centre, said hesitantly. A secondary school student, he dreams of becoming a professional football player.

Rose Uwimana, in her thirties, was queuing up in the dark 45 minutes before polling stations opened at 6:00 am (0400 GMT).

"It's important for the country so I've come very early," she said, smiling broadly.

Most people went out to vote on foot. The extensive roadworks that have been whipping up clouds of red dust in the capital have all been halted for the day.

A local journalist interviewed from a polling station on Contact FM radio expressed astonishment when asked if there had been "any pushing and shoving" and said no, definitely not.

At Rugunga school where Kagame was due to vote, security was tighter with a scanner set up and a trained dog sniffing into handbags.

Officials appeared bent on proving that Rwanda not only starts voting bang on time, it even completes polling well ahead of time.

Radio commentators speculated many stations would complete polling well before closing time, planned for 3:00 pm (1300 GMT).

State radio reported that at some polling stations in the Western Province, every voter on the registry had cast their ballot in the first hour.

Kagame has been acclaimed for maintaining stability in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, modernising the economy and turning Kigali into one of the safest and cleanest capitals in Africa.

His critics argue he has achieved that by cracking down on any form of dissent and turning Rwanda into a hard military dictatorship.

A lone voter thought it a pity "the real opposition" was excluded.

"They should have let (Bernard) Ntaganda run. He'd have got maybe 10 percent. They (the RPF) would still have won," he said, insisting he not be quoted.

Bernard Ntaganda, the founder and chairman of PS Imberakuri, the only real opposition group to have even been allowed to register as a party, was ousted and is currently in prison on charges of "divisionism" and associating with people who pose a threat to national security.


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