Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Rwanda holds first poll since the 1994 genocide


Rwanda will vote on Monday in its first presidential poll since the 1994 genocide, when extremists from the Hutu majority tried to wipe out the Tutsi minority, killing 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus who opposed them.

The election is also the first-ever multi-party poll in Rwanda, a test not only of how far the country has come since the days of ethnic politics but also of how ready it is to embrace democracy.

The man analysts expect to win is current President Paul Kagame. A Tutsi, he has been the main power in Rwanda since he took control of Kigali at the head of a rebel army in July 1994, ending the genocide.

His main opponent Faustin Twagiramungu, a Hutu former prime minister, has been stirring up usually dormant Rwandan politics. Kagame says Twagiramungu has been fomenting ethnic hatred, an allegation Twagiramungu vehemently denies.

Analysts say many Tutsis -- who make up just 14 percent of the population -- are scared of being sidelined or targeted again if a Hutu wins. All candidates say ethnicity is irrelevant to their politics.

Twagiramungu, who was targeted himself by Hutu extremists because he would not accept their ideology, says he is standing for all Rwandans and preaches unity and reconciliation.

But in the past nine years, such has been Kagame's grip on power that analysts say Rwandans are scared of voting for anyone else.

Several opponents of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) have been accused of fomenting divisions. Some have fled into exile, others been arrested. Several have disappeared.

Nine years is not a long time for a country to recover from genocide.

Though the official transition has finished and Kagame is eager to win democratic credentials at the ballot, officials say Monday's poll is only the start of a long process.

"The transition in Rwanda will take a long time," Finance Minister Donald Kaberuka said. "What is over is the legal transition."

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