Rwandan lawmakers voted Tuesday in support of a constitutional change to allow strongman Paul Kagame a third term in power as president, backing a petition signed by millions of citizens.
The crowded parliament, packed with members of the public who had come to watch, cheered and chanted Kagame’s name after all lawmakers present in both the lower and upper houses voted in the first step of the process for constitutional change.
“I want to thank all members of parliament for showing support to the people’s wishes,” parliament speaker Donatilla Mukabalisa said. Any change must be also passed by a national referendum.
Over 3.7 million people — well over half of the voters — have signed a petition calling for a change to Article 101 of the constitution, which limits the president to two terms, according to Rwandan media.
Both lower and upper houses of parliament were crammed to capacity with both lawmakers and the public, with the two chambers holding separate, parallel debates.
Nkusi Juvenal, a member of parliament from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), said that “3.7 million Rwandans from different constituencies and walks of life have spoken, we are their representatives here, we have no option but to… listen to their pleas.”
Kagame, 57, has been at the top of Rwandan politics since 1994, when an offensive by his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels put an end to a genocide by Hutu extremists that left an estimated 800,000 people dead, most of whom were Tutsis.