RWANDA’S push to change the constitution and allow President Paul Kagame to serve a third term in power undermines democratic principles, the European Union warned late Thursday.
The Rwandan senate last month passed a constitutional amendment that reduces presidential terms from seven to five years and maintains the two-term limit but makes an exception for Kagame, allowing him to run for a third seven-year term in 2017 at the end of which the new rules come into force.
The amendment must still go to a national referendum, but is expected to pass easily. Over 3.7 million people—over 60% of voters—signed the petition calling for a change to Article 101 of the constitution, which limits the president to two terms.
A committee of Rwandan lawmakers tasked to scour the country for the people’s views on the Kagame third term, reported that they found “only 10 people” who opposed the constitutional changes.
“The adoption of provisions that can apply only to one individual weakens the credibility of the constitutional reform process, as it undermines the principle of democratic change of government,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
“The amendments to the Rwandan constitution recently approved by Parliament—if confirmed by referendum—would give rise to this situation,” she said.
The EU comments come after the US on Tuesday said Kagame must set “an example” for the region.
“We expect President Kagame to step down at the end of his term in 2017,” US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said.
Kagame has run Rwanda since his Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army rebel group ended a 1994 genocide by extremists from the Hutu majority, in which an estimated 800,000 people were massacred, the vast majority of them Tutsis.
He won elections in 2003 and 2010 and under the current law is due to step aside in 2017.
Aides have insisted that any bid for a third term would be in response to the “popular demand” that he stay in power.
Supporters portray Kagame as a guarantor of post-genocide stability and the economic growth that has transformed the country over the past 20 years.
But critics say the move is orchestrated by a government and leader with an iron grip on a country where freedom of expression is often curtailed, and is part of a wider trend of African leaders seeking to stay put.
Rwanda is the northern neighbour of Burundi, where this year President Pierre Nkurunziza won a third consecutive term despite months of protests and an attempted coup.
“In countries that have consistently respected term limits and allowed for change, societies have become more resilient and institutions more credible,” Mogherini said, adding: “There are many examples for that on the continent.”