KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwandan lawmakers on Tuesday voted in support of a petition seeking to remove presidential term limits from the country's constitution, starting a process that could see President Paul Kagame rule beyond two terms.
A national petition had urged lawmakers to remove term limits, which would open the way for Kagame to seek re-election at the end of his current term in 2017.
Kagame became president in 2000 and had been the country's de facto leader since the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Kagame's government is credited with turning around Rwanda's economy in the years since the genocide, but critics say he is an authoritarian ruler who does not tolerate opposition. Many of his former comrades have fled the country, saying their lives are threatened.
A parliamentary committee will now consider the proposal to remove term limits, and later it will be subjected to a national referendum.
Kagame succeeded a former president in 2000 and was elected to the first of two seven-year terms in 2003.
If term limits are removed and Kagame runs again, he would join a growing list of regional leaders whose governments have jettisoned presidential term limits. In 2005, Ugandan lawmakers removed term limits from the constitution, allowing President Yoweri Museveni to seek re-election in 2006 and 2011. He is expected to run again in 2016.
Burundi also currently faces political unrest over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in elections set for July 21.
Many people say Nkurunziza's re-election bid is unconstitutional. But his supporters say he is eligible to seek another term because he was chosen by lawmakers — and not by popular vote — for his first term, and the nation's constitutional court has ruled in his favor.