Vote counting begins in Rwanda's presidential election

The BBC's Will Ross: "They're voting for President Kagame largely because of the security he has brought to the country"

Votes are being counted in the Rwandan presidential election, with incumbent Paul Kagame widely predicted to win a landslide victory.

Mr Kagame's supporters say he has brought both stability and steady economic growth since the country's genocide in 1994.

His critics accuse him of suppressing opposition and undermining democracy.

This is only the second presidential election since 1994, and five million Rwandans are registered to vote.

Mr Kagame won the 2003 election with 95% of the vote.

On Monday, voting began promptly at 0600 local time (0400 GMT) and the polls closed at 1500 (1300 GMT).

It is a sign of the level of efficiency in Rwanda that polls were able to close by mid-afternoon as scheduled, the BBC's Will Ross reports from Kigali.

People had queued from before dawn and the electoral commission said turnout was high. Governing party officials said preliminary results could be released on Monday evening.

'Very democratic'

Mr Kagame faced three rivals in the election, all with links to the president's all-powerful, Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Analysis

President Kagame's posters are plastered right across the capital Kigali and also deep in the villages. You have to hunt very hard for any posters of the challengers.

It is clear that, for now, Mr Kagame is only willing to allow a certain degree of democracy. This he sees as the only way to keep the country stable after the horrors of 1994. He may have helped foster stability and steady economic growth but Mr Kagame's critics say a clampdown on the opposition and a general climate of oppression serve to keep him in power.

This has led some opponents to denounce the election as a charade.

But casting his vote in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, Mr Kagame said he saw no problem with the way the vote had been conducted.

"The turnout has been huge in the last three weeks," he said.

"When I have seen how they have expressed themselves, the people of Rwanda, and all that has been done and said by the people of Rwanda, it has given the impression to me that the process has been very democratic."

One of the other candidates in the vote, Prosper Higiro, said his party was prepared to accept the result of the vote.

"If we deem that the process was fair, we are going to accept the results," he said.

'No apologies'

During the campaign Mr Kagame held massive election rallies attended by tens of thousands of supporters.

Kagame's Election Opponents

  • Prosper Higiro, 49, Liberal Party - heads a team of Rwandan MPs in the Pan-African parliament
  • Election pledge: To track down genocide fugitives and bring them to justice
  • Alivera Mukabaramba, 40, Party for Progress and Concord - a former paediatrician and the only woman in the race
  • Election pledge: Raise teachers' pay; social security fund for unemployed
  • Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, 49, Social Democratic Party - deputy speaker of parliament and a former health minister
  • Election pledge: Improve health and increase teachers' pay

His supporters say he has strengthened agricultural output, rebuilt the country's institutions, tackled corruption effectively and promoted women's rights and an environmentally friendly agenda.

As he finished campaigning, the president told critics among rights groups and the international community they should "not tell us how to shape our country".

He said of his RPF: "It is strong, it is organised, it has planned over a long time, historically it has been with the people to resolve challenging issues and therefore that results in a kind of overwhelming support. I have no regrets about it, I make no apologies."

His rivals have only managed much smaller rallies.

Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, of the PSD, told supporters at one: "We see our policies as a continuation of those of the RPF."

Some more vocal opponents of Mr Kagame were prevented from fielding candidates and have complained of intimidation.

'Lack of freedom'

But Electoral Commission spokesman Pacifique Nduwimana said that "everything went smoothly" during the campaign, with no incidents of violence.

Start Quote

We don't have freedom of the press, we don't have freedom of association, we don't have freedom of expression”

End Quote Frank Habineza Green Party founder

Frank Habineza, founder of the unregistered opposition Democratic Green Party, said Mr Kagame's expected victory would have been more credible if he had "competed with the real opposition".

Speaking from Germany, he told the BBC's Focus on Africa that if his party had been able to stand in elections it would have campaigned on a platform of participatory democracy, social justice and non-violence - all of which he said were lacking in contemporary Rwanda.

"We don't have freedom of the press, we don't have freedom of association, we don't have freedom of expression," he said.

But he also said his party would not contest the result because it wanted to avoid any post-election violence.

The Green Party's vice-president was brutally murdered last month, and the killing spread fear among opposition parties.

The Electoral Commission accredited 1,394 observers, 214 of them from abroad, including from the African Union and Commonwealth.

BBC News website readers have been sharing their experiences of polling day and their hopes for the country. Here is a selection of their comments.

I hope to see the incumbent president re-elected so that he keeps implementing his vision of economic transformation for Rwanda. Democracy is not just about freedom of speech, it is about civil, social and economic rights, like the right to free education and free healthcare. No single nation has achieved radical transformation, without enforcing values of discipline and hard work within the society. John R, Kigali

Rwandans are an inspiration to other Africans in the region. I was amazed by the easy, calm and orderly atmosphere at the polling station. Josh, Kigali

I expect that Paul Kagame will win the elections because he did a lot for this country. He almost rebuilt Rwanda from scratch. He is really beloved by all Rwandans. Ruhina Sabiti, Nyanza

These have been very peaceful, smooth and transparent elections. I am so pleased to decide for myself who will rule this country. Both candidates have nice plans, but we have to decide who can really achieve them. If you are a human resources recruiter for a very challenging job, you must first look at the curriculum vitae of the applicants and at their past experience. It's the same in Rwanda - we are trying to choose the strongest candidate for this difficult job. We know what we want for our future, nobody else can define it for us. Mark, Mutuye, Kigali

I was amazed at how calm it was at the polling station. I did not even spend five minutes there. My privacy was respected and I felt good to have voted for the second time in presidential elections. Rwanda shows that it is a small but mighty nation. Olivier Sempiga, Kigali

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