NEW YORK — Rwanda's President Paul Kagame bristled Tuesday at suggestions that democracy is not flourishing in his country, and said that the 93 percent of the vote he won last year was not enough.
Kagame said Rwanda enjoys a multi-party political system and that he supports "a right that allows anybody, everybody to express themselves."
He said the will of the people was expressed during last year's presidential election. "So, 93 percent — I wonder why it wasn't higher than that," Kagame told the Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent New York-based think tank.
When a senior Human Rights Watch director in the audience challenged Kagame, the president said he did not want to hear "lectures."
Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said there had been "no opposition and independent journalists were silenced" ahead of the poll.
Kagame denied this, insisting that there were four presidential candidates from four different parties, although his three nominal opponents in fact had ties to his Rwandan Patriotic Front party.
Kagame said anyone can participate in Rwandan politics as long as they do not advocate a return to the genocide that tore the country apart in 1994.
"There are things that are unacceptable here or in Rwanda, or anywhere else if they work to the detriment of society," he said.
Kagame's plea for understanding and for his performance to be put in the context of the difficulty Rwanda faces in overcoming the massacres did not convince Hicks.
"If he really wants Rwandan people's voices to be heard he should allow them to vote for all the candidates," she told AFP after the talk was over. "And if he wants Human Rights Watch to listen to the voices, then it would be nice to have visas (issued) like we used to have."
Copyright © 2011 AFP