Rwanda's ruling party RPF to amend constitution to allow Kagame third term bid

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda

Rwanda‘s President Paul Kagame‘s bid to run for a third term has been endorsed by senior members of the country’s ruling party, paving the way for a constitutional amendment.

The ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) approved the bid to change the country’s constitution, which currently limits the president to two terms. If such an amendment passed, Kagame would be free to run for the next presidential election in 2017.

RPF issued a statement on Monday backing a constitutional change after about 600 high-ranking members held a two-day retreat in the capital Kigali.

“Based on the wishes of Rwandans and party members that have been recently expressed, we support that the [constitution]… should be amended,” the RPF statement read.

Kagame is coming to the end of his second seven-year term and has argued that the constitution had been drawn up by the people and they can determine any changes to the charter.

Instead of an opposition, over 3.6 million people signed a petition for a change of Article 101 of the constitution, which limits the president to two terms.

In early April, Kagame said he disagreed with initiatives to amend the constitution but was “open” to being convinced otherwise.

It is not yet clear whether Kagame will back the RPF’s decision. Earlier in April, he said he did not support changes of the constitution, but that he was open to debate.

“I have not asked anyone to change the constitution and I have not told anybody how or what to think about 2017,” Kagame said in April.

“In a democratic society, debates are allowed and they are healthy,” he said.

Some observers say most of the people who signed the petition did so under duress.

Kagame has since addressed the claims, urging politicians not to coerce people into signing.

“If the allegations that some people have been forced are true, that’s a concern and you should also have that concern,” Kagame told RPF members.

Kagame’s critics say he tramples on media and political freedoms, and does not deserve a third term.

However, Kagame’s supporters argue that Rwanda has made significant socio-economic progress over the last decade under Kagame’s leadership.