Rwanda shaves president’s term to 5 years, as Senegal, Liberia plan similar cuts. Kagame 3rd term remains on course

While a few countries look to cut presidential terms, in others leaders are getting more bites at the cherry as their stay in office gets extended.

RWANDAN lawmakers cut the presidential term in office to five years from the current seven, parliament Speaker Jeanne d’Arc Uwimanimpaye said in the capital, Kigali, Bloomberg’s Saul Butera reports.

The legislators also decided to maintain presidential terms at two, but said citizens could extend a leader’s mandate to a third five-year term if they chose to, Uwimanimpaye said while addressing parliament.

By a vote of nearly 100%, Rwandan lawmakers in July backed a petition calling for a referendum in which voters will be asked whether to amend the constitution and enable President Paul Kagame to run for a third term when his second expires in 2017.

Ahead of the parliamentary vote, over 3.7 million people - more than 60% of  the country’s registered voters - signed the petition calling for a change to Article 101 of the constitution, which limits the president to two terms.

A parliamentary team that toured the country to seek the views of the public, reported back that it could find “only 10” people opposed to amending the constitution to allow Kagame a third term.

In September the Rwanda cabinet appointed a seven-member commission to review possible constitutional changes. The latest vote, therefore, still leaves the third term project on course.

Kagame is credited with leading the now ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels to victory and ending a genocide that, in 1994, killed nearly one million people.

He was vice president, then was voted ini in  2003 under a new constitution that placed limits on presidential terms.

He has presided over a dramatic turnaround, and a government that is among the least corrupt in Africa, and was recently rated in a World Economic Forum report as being among the most efficient in the world.

But critics and human rights accuse his government of muzzling free media and suppressing political dissent.

With the latest vote by Parliament, if a referendum, which would invariably back a change constitution, is held, then Kagame, would be in office until 2022, instead of 2024 – assuming term limits are not scratched out all together.

However, despite what appears like a popular demand for him to stand, analysts say if he went ahead and ran for a third term, it would still be “out of character”.

Rwanda’s move follows a small, but emerging, trend of African countries shaving the length of presidential terms.

Senegal’s President Macky Sall is pushing to amend the constitution to bring the length of a president’s term down to five, from seven years, while maintaining the two terms limit.

In Liberia, a constitution review is looking to take an even more conservative line, proposing to cut the term from the current six to four years.

But Africa runs on many political tracks, divided between autocracies where elections are a mockery or don’t happen, like Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt and Algeria; semi-democracies without term limits like Ethiopia and Cameroon; democracies with both term limits and competitive elections like Zambia and Kenya; and backsliders where term limits are being removed or were long-scuttled and political reform stifled like Uganda and Congo.

The next two years will either confirm the pattern where Rwanda is yet another small country that pulls an African surprise, or is a typical central African nation where political progress is more likely to be stunted than flourish.

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