Paul Kagame took a decisive lead early today in Rwanda’s first serious presidential elections, capturing more than 94% of the vote with half the districts reporting, elections officials said.
His main competitor, Faustin Twagiramungu, had just 3.5% of the vote with 51 of 106 districts reporting results, said Chrysologue Karangwa, head of the electoral commission.
The third candidate, Jean-Nepomuscene Nayinzira, had 1.9%, he said on government-run radio and television.
The elections are Rwanda’s first serious presidential elections since the 1994 genocide that killed at least a half million people, most of them minority Tutsis, in killings orchestrated by an extremist government dominated by the Hutu majority.
More than 3.9 million people were eligible to vote yesterday, and more than 80% cast ballots at 11,350 polling stations in the central African nation of eight million people.
Final results are expected tomorrow.
Kagame, a Tutsi, led the rebels who ousted the government to end the 100 days of slaughter in July 1994. Since then, he had served as vice president and defence minister and later president in a government of national unity.
Twagiramungu, a moderate who narrowly escaped death himself in 1994, briefly served as prime minister in the first post-genocide government before falling out with Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front and going into exile.
A fourth candidate, Alivera Mukabaramba, withdrew from the race on Sunday, although he was on the ballot.
The election was “a sign that we are developing politically”, said Emmanuel Karisa, a 25-year-old university student, his thumb stained with ink from stamping it on the photograph of his choice.
“There was no choice in previous elections,” said 73-year-old Jean-Baptiste Gakwaya, referring to the two single-party Hutu regimes that had ruled Rwanda from the time it gained independence from Belgium in 1962 until the genocide.
Kagame, who voted in Kigali, said election results would show that Rwanda has made “huge strides” in building national unity and reconciliation.
Casting his ballot, Twagiramungu, a Hutu, called the election “a very positive development and the basis for consolidating the democratic process in Rwanda.”
But some European Union election observers expressed concern about the system of using fingerprints to mark ballots.
“This method could allow for the identification of voters,” said Nelly Maes, a Belgian member of the European Parliament and one of 65 EU observers.