KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwandans living outside the country started voting Thursday, a day before the presidential election that longtime 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 called that a small part of the millions of Rwandans living overseas.

Rwanda’s 6.9 million registered voters can vote 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.”

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.

Stella Teta, a Rwandan living in Kampala, Uganda said she voted for Kagame, saying he has delivered to the satisfaction of the majority of Rwandans.

“His competitors have no better ideas and they are inexperienced,” Teta said. More than 7,000 voters were casting their votes at the Rwandan Embassy in Kampala.

In Rwanda’s tidy capital, Kigali, there has been little hint of the coming vote.

Presidential candidates have been barred from putting campaign posters in most public places, including schools and hospitals. The electoral commission has vetted candidates’ campaign messages, warning that their social media accounts could be blocked otherwise.

The 59-year-old Kagame has been de facto leader or president of the nation of 12 million people since his rebels ended its 1994 genocide. While he remains popular for presiding over economic growth, he inspires fear among some Rwandans who say he uses the powers of the state to remove perceived opponents.

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

Author photo
IGNATIUS SSUUNA
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.