Rwandan legislators Tuesday voted in support of a constitutional change to allow President Paul Kagame a third term in power as president, backing a petition signed by millions of citizens.
The crowded Parliament, packed with members of the public who had come to watch, cheered and chanted Kagame’s name after all lawmakers present in both the lower and upper houses voted in the first step of the process for constitutional change.
“I want to thank all members of parliament for showing support to the people’s wishes,” AFP quotes Speaker, Donatilla Mukabalisa, as saying.
Over 3.7 million people — well over half of the voters — signed a petition calling for a change to Article 101 of the Constitution, which limits the president to two terms, according to Rwandan media.
Mukabalisa said they engaged and consulted the poeple about the amendment of 101, and other articles.
Nkusi Juvenal, an MP from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), said that 3.7 million Rwandans from different constituencies and walks of life have spoke and as their representatives, the MPs had to agree to their pleas.
“Paul Kagame, oyee! (oh yes),” a crowded Parliament reportedly broke into song while celebrating their decision.
However, Jean-Claude Ntezimana, from Rwanda’s tiny but main opposition group, the Green Party, had complained that Parliament should not vote on a decision to press ahead with any constitutional changes until their challenge opposing it had been heard in court.
While Kagame claims the decision is for the “Rwandan people”, critics say he has used the trauma of 1994 genocide to make himself an irreplaceable god.
Kagame, 57, has been at the top of Rwandan politics since 1994, when an offensive by his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels put an end to a genocide by Hutu extremists that left an estimated 800,000 people dead, most of whom were Tutsis.
As minister of Defence and then vice president, Kagame was widely seen as the power behind the throne even before he took the presidency in 2003, winning 95 percent of the vote.
He was re-elected in 2010 with a similarly resounding mandate.
The next elections are due in 2017.