Rwanda disqualifies only female presidential candidate over alleged incomplete signatures
Rwanda’s only female presidential candidate has been disqualified from next month’s election, with authorities saying on Friday that she did not submit enough supporters’ signatures and some of those she did submit belonged to dead people.
Rwanda has the most women in parliament of anywhere in the world – nearly two-thirds of lawmakers are female – but a woman has never been president.
According to the final list, President Paul Kagame will run for a third term on Aug. 4 against Frank Habineza, nominated by the opposition Democratic Green Party, and Philippe Mpayimana.
Diane Shima Rwigara, a 35-year-old accountant, was one of three candidates left off the list, and the only woman. She was seen as a threat to Kagame because she commands a strong followership among the youths. There was shock across Rwanda when a nude picture of her was released on the internet fuelling speculation that it was an attempt to rubbish her image by those who felt threatened by her candidature.
Kagame is widely admired for restoring stability after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, presiding over rapid economic growth and a relatively corruption-free government.
But activists say that came at the expense of civil liberties and media freedoms. Some of Kagame’s political opponents were killed after they fled abroad, in cases that remain unsolved. The government denies any involvement.
Rwigara’s father died in a car accident in 2015 that her family maintains was politically motivated. She has spoken out against what she describes as repression by the government.
The commission said she only submitted 572 valid signatures, below the required 600. She says she submitted 985 signatures, and an additional 120 after many were disqualified.
Kalisa Mbanda, the president of the National Election Commission, told Reuters on Friday “among the signature of her supporters, there are some who are dead.”
After the first batch of signatures was rejected this week, Michael Ryan, the European Union representative in Rwanda, tweeted a picture of himself with Rwigara and “important 4 credibility @RwandaElections to quickly clarify why so many signatures rejected”, prompting a public rebuke from Kagame on national television for meddling.
Constitutional changes, which technically allow Kagame to stay until 2034, were approved in a 2015 referendum by a 98 percent majority that the opposition and Western diplomats said was suspiciously high. REUTERS/Political Economist