- Associated Press - Sunday, August 8, 2010

KIGALI, Rwanda | For weeks, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has rallied his supporters with thumping pop music and promised to build on his economic and social development record, which has won him accolades abroad.

As polls prepare to open Monday at 6 a.m. in Rwanda’s second presidential election since the 1994 genocide, few doubt Mr. Kagame will win.

The lean, professorial leader is expected to easily retain the loyalties of the country’s 5.2 million voters. But the run-up to the vote has been marred by a series of recent attacks on outspoken critics of Mr. Kagame’s government, and some of the more vocal opposition politicians say they’ve been barred from participating.

During the three-week campaign period, Mr. Kagame’s image has been everywhere. At rallies, he shed his business suit and tie for a shirt and jacket emblazoned with his Rwanda Patriotic Front insignia topped with a baseball cap bearing the party’s red, white and blue flag. He also has tried to shed his image as a stiff leader, joining in dances and clapping along as crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands sang and danced at his daily rallies across the tiny, landlocked country.

Those rallies were part of a carefully choreographed campaign, which included a local pop group playing what has become the president’s re-election theme song, “Tora Kagame,” or “Vote Kagame” in Kinyarwanda, and live updates on social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

His supporters say the huge crowds represent genuine popular support for the leader who transformed this Central African nation after the brutal 100-day genocide that left at least 500,000 people dead.

Taye Manzi said he trusts Mr. Kagame because he has united the nation of 10 million people.

“He supports the youth, he supports gender, he is the one who can bring us together,” said Mr. Manzi, who took time off from his job in the capital, Kigali, to travel to his home region to attend one of Mr. Kagame’s rallies.

Mr. Kagame, who was elected president by parliament in 2000 and who voters then elected to the post in 2003, will earn another seven-year term if re-elected.

His three challengers are former partners in a coalition government formed soon after the genocide who have posed no real threat. Their electoral platforms are also similar to Mr. Kagame‘s.

More vocal opposition leaders who may have run a more challenging campaign, however, say they’ve been barred from contesting or worse. And the government-appointed media council has clamped down on independent newspapers publishing dissenting views.

On July 14, Frank Habineza, president of the unregistered opposition Democratic Green Party, received a phone call he had been dreading. A day after he had been reported missing, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, the party’s vice president, had been found dead.

When Mr. Habineza saw Mr. Rwisereka’s corpse, he was shocked: Mr. Rwisereka appeared to have been brutally tortured, with his head nearly removed from his body.

Mr. Habineza said he does not think police claims that Mr. Rwisereka was killed over a business dispute. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has demanded a full investigation into the slaying.