The re-election of Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s longtime president, had never been in question. But opponents and rights advocates say his nearly 99 percent margin of victory reflects what they call an oppressive political environment that stifles dissent in the central African nation. The lopsidedness of the result of the Friday vote giving Mr. Kagame a third seven-year term, announced on Saturday, was no surprise to supporters. They called it an accurate barometer of his enormous popularity in transforming Rwanda from the post-genocide depths into a beacon of African prosperity and stability. “People trust him. If it were not democratic, he could even score 100 percent,” said Wellers Gasamagera, the spokesman for Mr. Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front political party. “There is nothing strange as to the high score in terms of votes.” Still, the results also punctuated the glaring absence of a viable opposition in Rwanda. Dissenting views are frequently silenced.
One of Mr. Kagame’s opponents in the election had expected to do far better or even win. Frank Habineza, founder of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, said before the vote that he had anticipated receiving 65 percent of the total. He got less than one half of 1 percent.
Mr. Habineza, a former journalist, said in an interview on Saturday that the results were “indeed not pleasing as we had expected.”
The portents of defeat seemed clear at one of Mr. Habineza’s last campaign rallies. Held on a roadside in the outskirts of Kigali, the capital, only 500 people showed up. Chickens darted around while half the crowd stood across the street, listening from a distance.