The Rwandan parliament's decision to back a plan to scrap presidential terms and allow President Paul Kagame to run for election in 2017 was a constitution coup, according to activist Rene Mugenzi.
The parliament's decision came after some 3.7 million Rwandans – about 72% of those on the Rwandan electoral roll – are believed to have signed a petition demanding for Kagame to run for a third term.
"The president of the republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once. Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of president of republic for more than two terms."
"The power to initiate amendment of the constitution is vested concurrently in the president of the republic upon the proposal of the cabinet and each chamber of parliament upon a resolution passed by a two thirds majority vote of its members.
"The passage of a constitutional amendment requires a three quarters majority vote of the members of each chamber of parliament. However, if the constitutional amendment concerns the term of the president of the republic or the system of democratic government based on political pluralism, or the constitutional regime established by this constitution especially the republican form of the government or national sovereignty, the amendment must be passed by referendum, after adoption by each chamber of parliament. No amendment to this article is permitted."
The petitioners asked the government to change article 101 of the constitution, according to which the president can stay in power only for two seven-year-long terms. However, article 193 concerning amendments of the constitution does not allow the number of terms to be changed, but only their lengths.
Human rights activists and organisations have warned that some of the petitioners have been forced to sign and those who oppose a change of the constitution are being persecuted.
Mugenzi, who also believes some people were coerced into signing, told IBTimes UK: "It was a constitutional coup [led] by Kagame using a parliament he totally controls.
"It is a shame how a parliament ignored an important clause that prevents [an] increase of the terms limit.
"It is a confirmation of a totalitarism pathway that he [Kagame] has taken in Rwanda in the last 20 years."
Mugenzi - whom the Rwandan government plotted to assasinate in 2011, according to Scotland Yard – said the Rwandan government is trying to give the impression that a constitutional change is driven by the people.
Paul Kagame's political career
Kagame became the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)'s armed wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), as the country had descended into a civil war which then sparked a genocide in which an estimated 1 million people – mainly Tutsi and moderate Hutu – were killed in three months.
In the aftermath of the genocide, Kagame served as vice president and minister of defence until 2000, when he became president after being elected by government ministers and the national assembly.
The RPF became a political party while its armed wing was renamed the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now the Rwandan Defence Forces).
In 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution replacing a transitional one, and Kagame was re-elected as president. He won the election again in 2010.
He said: "The Rwandan government does not want to be seen as a dictator government, but on the same side they want to change the constitution and they want to make it as if the change is driven by the people, but the reality is that this is a set up.
"The government knows that the majority of people will not oppose because they have been terrified many times."
When contacted by IBTimes UK, Rwandan Patriotic Front's vice president Christophe Bazivamo said: "I think it is not possible to force 3.6 million people to sign a petition. People who have signed were actually happy to do so. It's not possible to force people to sign and to also make them happy.
"The population signed the petition because of facts. We achieved goals when it comes to child and maternal mortality. When it comes to security and social economic development, from 1994 until now, the situation has improved."