The debate, set to take place over the next two months, was prompted by parliament being handed petitions signed by a total of two million people – or roughly 17 percent of the population – asking for the constitution to be changed, the head of the chamber, Donatilla Mukabalisa, told AFP.
“We have received two million requests,” she said, explaining that parliament has been receiving a number of what she insisted were spontaneous letters and petitions from individuals, groups or associations.
However, there are two significant differences in the Rwanda case, although all involve relatively authoritarian elected leaders.
The first is that Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is already now in his 15th year in office (3 of them under an older constitution and 10 under the 2003 constitution) and the term length at the moment is a whopping 7 years. That length used to be more common under constitutions inspired by the French constitution of 1958, but it had fallen out of favor in most places some time ago and was removed in France itself in 2000. 4-5 years is the prevailing world standard for presidents and prime ministers at this point. Kagame’s new “first” term (after the 2003 constitution) was from 2003 to 2010. His second term began in 2010 and will not end until 2017. He would therefore have served a full 17 years as President of Rwanda even before embarking on a “third” term under the proposed constitutional revision now under consideration. Were he to serve out that term as well, and assuming that the term lengths are not shortened when the limit is lifted, Mr. Kagame would have served for an uninterrupted 24 years. As usual, his relationship with democracy is superficial and procedural at best.
The second is that, unlike many of the sub-Saharan African leaders who have been trying to remove term limits in the past year, Paul Kagame is widely supported enthusiastically by the international community to the point of getting a free pass on most abusive actions. It will be interesting to see which allies, if any, part ways with him over this issue after so much Western criticism of efforts to lift term limits in other countries.