KIGALI, Rwanda – Rwanda's president is already claiming victory in next month's election.
President Paul Kagame told supporters at his first campaign rally Friday that the results of the vote were known in 2015, when more than 4 million Rwandans petitioned Parliament to change the constitution to allow him to run again.
Kagame said his critics cannot change the will of the people. "You can choose not to hear the truth but you cannot deny what your eyes show you here today," he said. "Pretending not to know the will expressed by the people during the referendum would be a lie, not democracy."
Kagame has been in power since the end of the East African nation's genocide in 1994. While he has been credited with bringing stability to the tiny country of 12 million people, human rights groups and others accuse his government of abuses such as executions over suspected petty crimes like the theft of bananas or a cow.
The president is widely expected to win another term on Aug. 4. The amended constitution allows him to remain in power until 2034 if he pursues it. The United States, a key Rwanda ally, opposed the change to the constitution. Kagame has accused some Western diplomats of meddling in the country's affairs.
Rwanda's government earlier this month disqualified all but three candidates for the election, saying they didn't fulfil requirements such as collecting enough supporting signatures. Critics say the government is leaving no room for competition.
The two people challenging Kagame in the vote are Frank Habineza of the opposition Democratic Green Party and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Out of 11 registered political parties, eight have backed the ruling RPF-Inkotanyi party instead of fielding their own candidates.