Rwanda's Kagame Praises Vote Allowing him Extra Terms
Rwanda President Paul Kagame praised Monday a constitutional referendum allowing him to rule until 2034, but did not declare whether he intends to run in the next election.
Kagame had previously said he would make a decision on standing in the 2017 polls only after results were in from Friday's referendum in which 98 percent of the population approved constitutional changes making his candidacy legal.
"No individual is forever, but there is no term limit on values, institutions, or progress," Kagame said in his annual State of the Nation address on Monday.
"When the time comes to transfer responsibility, Rwandans already have confidence that it will be done," Kagame said without specifying whether such a transfer might occur in 2017, or much later.
The United States and European Union have denounced the constitutional amendments as undermining democracy in the central African country, with the White House urging Kagame to respect the limits of his term in office.
The "yes" vote in favor of the constitutional change garnered 98.4 percent, leaving just 1.6 percent of voters opposed, according to the official count from all of the country's 30 districts as well as overseas votes.
"Participation in the recent referendum was massive," Kagame said. "Most voted 'yes'; tens of thousands voted 'no'. I thank everyone."
The amendments allow Kagame, 58, to run for an exceptional third seven-year term in 2017, at the end of which the new rules take effect and he will be eligible to run for a further two five-year terms.
"Rwandans expect a democracy in which public office is routinely transferred from one individual of their choice to another," he said.
Kagame has in the past said it would be a failure if he did not find a suitable replacement before the end of his current mandate.
"Those who seek a third term, seek a fourth and then a fifth term," he warned in 2010. Unless it is changed again, the amended constitution allows Kagame to have up to five terms.
Kagame has effectively controlled Rwanda since his rebel force ended the country's 1994 genocide. He took part in the first post-genocide government as vice president and defense minister.
"We know Rwanda's value, and we the people, are prepared to safeguard the unique choices that brought this country back to life," Kagame said Monday.
The issue of long-serving rulers clinging to power has caused turmoil in Africa, where some leaders have been at the helm for decades, and Kagame is not the first in recent times to try to change the constitution to stay in office.