Rwandans back new constitution

Rwandan voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution which paves the way for rare multiparty elections later this year and hopefully, the healing of ethnic tensions since the 1994 genocide.

     President Paul Kagame (R) is yet
    to specifiy a date for the elections

    Electoral officials said provisional results showed that 93% of those who voted in Monday's referendum were in favour of the new constitution.

    Officials said 87% of the country's 3.8 million registered voters took part in the referendum.

    President Paul Kagame hailed the massive support for the new constitution and said the country would likely hold its first multiparty elections since the 1960s in August and September.

    The draft constitution stipulates that no party can hold more than 50% of the seats in cabinet, even if they secure an absolute majority in parliamentary elections.

    It also stipulates that the president, prime minister, and president of the lower house cannot all belong to the same party, and includes a new provision outlawing the incitement of ethnic hatred.

    But critics say the new constitution, which imposes tight controls on political parties, aims at keeping Kagame's ruling party in power.

    One article in the proposed constitution, in effect, prohibits political campaigning at grassroots level restricting it to provincial and national institutions.

    Kagame said he expected presidential and parliamentary polls to go ahead in August and September respectively, but did not specify a date.

    They will be a big test for a country yearning for stability following the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutu's were massacred by extremist Hutus.

    Kagame's Tutsi-dominated government has long rooted its legitimacy in the memory of its 1994 victory over the extremist Hutu authorities responsible for the genocide.

    The government points to its restoration of order as proof that it is Rwanda's best defence against more chaos, but critics say its tight control of national affairs amounts to repression.

    "The [draft] constitution confers on the government broad powers to curtail speech or meetings that are deemed divisive," said the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

    Presidential and parliamentary elections will follow once the constitution is approved, the government says.


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