President Paul Kagame – whose rebels ended the country's 1994 genocide – leads a largely corruption-free government and is widely predicted to win in Friday's elections.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) waves to his supporters during his final campaign rally in Kigali, Rwanda. August 2, 2017.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) waves to his supporters during his final campaign rally in Kigali, Rwanda. August 2, 2017.

Rwandans living outside the country started voting on Thursday, a day before the presidential election that long-time leader Paul Kagame is widely expected to win.

The electoral commission for the East African nation said more than 44,000 people in the diaspora were expected to vote at nearly 100 polling stations. Political analysts say these 44,000 are a small proportion of the millions of Rwandans living overseas.

Rwanda's 6.9 million registered voters can vote in the country on Friday.

Kagame won the 2010 election with 93 percent of the vote. He has already claimed victory in Friday's vote, telling a rally in July that "the day of the presidential elections will just be a formality."

"The journalists are writing and saying that the elections in Rwanda are not important because it is already known who is going to win. Me, I'm proud that the result is already known," he said.

TRT World's Ben Said has more.

Weak opposition

A constitutional amendment after a referendum in 2015 allows him to stay in power until 2034 if he pursues it.

His challengers in this election include little-known Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party — the only permitted opposition party — and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana.

On Wednesday, Habineza pledged to retry political prisoners if he's elected. He said many jailed Rwandan dissidents were "unfairly treated" in their sentencing.

Rwanda's opposition Democratic Green Party Presidential candidate Frank Habineza addresses his supporters during a rally in Burera District, Rwanda. August 1, 2017 (Reuters)
Rwanda's opposition Democratic Green Party Presidential candidate Frank Habineza addresses his supporters during a rally in Burera District, Rwanda. August 1, 2017 (Reuters)

Targeting dissent

Kagame – whose government is largely corruption-free – has brought stability and economic growth to Rwanda.

But dissent is rare in Rwanda and many of those opposed to Kagame have fled. There have been several mysterious murders abroad.

Some say he's a dictator but those who lost family members in the genocide see stability as Rwanda's greatest achievement today.

The 59-year-old Kagame has been a de facto leader or president of the nation of 12 million people since his rebels ended the 1994 genocide.

Rwandan authorities, including Kagame, deny critics' claims that the government targets dissidents for assassination or disappearances.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies