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August 04, 2017

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwandans voted in an election Friday that the country’s longtime president is widely expected to win. President Paul Kagame is running against Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda — the only permitted opposition party — and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana.

There were long queues in some parts of the capital Kigali, where all the candidates are registered to vote. At some polling stations, music was being played urging the voters to choose the candidate who will transform the country and unite all Rwandans.

Kagame, who won the 2010 election with 93 percent of the vote, told a rally in July that “the day of the presidential elections will just be a formality.” “Even the critics will tell you Kagame is an extraordinary leader who walks the talk,” Kigali resident Charles Karemera said after voting at the city’s Amahoro Stadium.

The 59-year-old Kagame has been de-facto leader or president of the nation of 12 million people since his rebels ended the 1994 genocide. While he remains popular for presiding over economic growth, critics accuse him of using the powers of the state to remove perceived opponents.

Rwandan authorities, including Kagame, deny critics’ claims that the government targets dissidents for assassination or disappearances. Presidential candidates were barred from putting campaign posters in most public places, including schools and hospitals. The electoral commission has vetted candidates’ campaign messages, warning that their social media accounts could be blocked otherwise.

Three potential candidates for Friday’s election were disqualified by the electoral commission for allegedly failing to fulfill certain requirements, including collecting enough signatures. A constitutional amendment after a referendum in 2015 allows Kagame to stay in power until 2034 if he pursues it.

Rwanda has about 6.9 million registered voters. More than 44,000 Rwandans living outside the country voted Thursday. Polls close at 3 p.m. local time, and provisional results are expected later on Friday, said Charles Munyaneza, executive secretary of the Rwanda Electoral Commission.

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