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Rwandans Vote in Poll as Kagame Heads for Second Term

Rwandans voted in an election in which President Paul Kagame will probably secure a second term, reassuring foreign investors in the coffee-based economy.

Polling stations were open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. local time, without any major incidents being reported in the East African country, Charles Munyaneza, executive secretary of the electoral commission, said in an interview from Kigali today. Provisional results may be released after 1 a.m. tomorrow, while final results will be announced by Aug. 17, he said.

“We haven’t received any reports of any negative events, apart from a few people who could not find their names on the register, but that is because they had not registered,” Munyaneza said.

Kagame has pledged to continue policies that contributed to average annual growth of 8.3 percent in the nine years through 2008. He has also promised to maintain peace in a country torn apart in 1994 by a genocide that killed 800,000 people. While he has been praised for resurrecting Rwanda’s economy, human-rights groups have criticized the 52-year-old leader for restricting political freedom. The election campaign was marred by attacks on Kagame’s opponents.

“If I am elected today we’ll be consolidating the things we’ve been doing,” Kagame told reporters in Kigali, where he cast his ballot with his wife, Jeannette. He pledged to focus on boosting trade “within the region and beyond” and to improve healthcare and health insurance while increasing investment in infrastructure and communications and technology.

Wrong Scripts

Andre Rwisereka, deputy leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party, was found dead July 14, and Jean-Leonard Rugambage, editor of the banned Umuvugizi newspaper, was shot and killed June 24. Rugambage was investigating allegations the government was behind the June 19 shooting of Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa. The former Rwandan army chief of staff survived. Rwanda’s government has denied any involvement in the incidents.

“Critics and some sections of the media have been reading their scripts from a different angle,” Kagame said today. “They have set standards for Rwanda and for Africa and are disappointed when things go right.”

It’s “almost certain” Kagame will win “because of what he has achieved,” said Frederick Golooba, political analyst at Makerere University, in neighboring Uganda. Rwandan opposition parties are also “too weak to oust an incumbent,” he said in an interview.

‘Credible Leader’

Under Kagame, foreign direct investment in Rwanda increased to $541.2 million in 2009 from $32 million in 2003, according to the Kigali-based Rwanda Development Board. Investors include Starbucks Corp. in Seattle, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, and Issaquah, Washington-based Costco Wholesale Corp., which have become the biggest buyers of Rwanda’s coffee, the backbone of its economy.

The violence in the lead-up to today’s vote is unlikely to reduce investor confidence in the short-term, said Laura Morrison, an Africa analyst with Control Risks, a London political-risk management company.

“As long as Kagame’s reputation as a credible leader isn’t damaged, donors and the business community would not consider there to be a problem,” she said in an Aug. 4 interview from London.

Kagame faces three challengers: Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives from the Social Democratic Party, Alvera Mukabaramba, a senator from the Party of Progress and Concord, and the Liberal Party’s Prosper Higiro, the Senate’s vice president.

‘Comfortable Win’

Victoire Ingabire, leader of the opposition United Democratic Forces, says she has been unable to register as a candidate for the elections because she has been under house arrest and called for the election to be postponed.

Kagame is likely “to win quite comfortably”, said Gus Selassie, an Africa analyst for London-based Global Insight. “Today’s ballot is officially a four-horse race, but none of the challengers represent a real threat to Kagame, the most dominant political figure in post-genocide Rwanda,” he said in an e-mailed statement today.

Rwanda’s second multi-party vote will be “free and fair,” Munyaneza of the electoral commission told reporters on Aug. 7 in Kigali. “We are as confident as ever that it will be a good election because this is not the first that we have handled. We have experience.”

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