On 8 October, Rwanda's supreme court ruled that President Paul Kagame could run for a third term in 2017, dismissing the opposition Democratic Green Party's lawsuit challenging any potential amendments to the constitution's two-term limit.
Kagame is opaque about whether he intends to run again in 2017, yet preparations for a referendum have been in full swing for the past six months. They began in July with a government-orchestrated petition of 3.8 million voters – nearly 70% of the electoral roll – calling for the removal of presidential term limits.
Local authorities went house to house cajoling voters to sign the petition, which many did multiple times. Public debates have raged over the term-limit issue on private radio stations and in social media.
The degree of government coercion around the July petition belies the reality that most people begrudgingly accept a Kagame third term as the price for political stability
Parliamentarians have started public consultations ahead of a likely announcement about a referendum before the Christmas recess.
The referendum will probably be in the first half of 2016, allowing Kagame to lead the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front's (RPF) campaign for the 2017 presidential election and the parliamentary vote in 2018.
That the referendum will go ahead seems a fait accompli: the population will vote in favour of removing term limits and Kagame will run and be re-elected in 2017. To its international critics, the government argues the referendum is a legitimate, democratic mechanism to change the constitution.
Ministers contrast the methodical Rwandan process of lifting term limits with attempts in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo by presidents to impose their will in the face of large-scale popular opposition.
Although members of parliament have stuck to the script – that if the population votes for constitutional change, nothing will stand in Kagame's way – some senior officials have reservations about a Kagame third term and advocate renewal within the RPF and government.
They criticised the push for a referendum before a Kagame-appointed committee of RPF 'sages' – Tito Rutaremara, Joseph Karemera and Antoine Mugesera – delivered its roadmap for the party up to 2017 and beyond.
Within the RPF – a former rebel movement riven with rivalries from the exile years and experiences of fighting during the 1990-1994 civil war and the 1994 genocide – numerous leaders consider themselves qualified presidential candidates and are angry at the prospect of a Kagame third term.
Some argue that Kagame has weakened possible successors through constant cabinet reshuffles and undermining ministers by centralising authority in the presidency.
However, the degree of government coercion around the July petition belies the reality that most people begrudgingly accept a Kagame third term as the price for political stability.
While the RPF has never succeeded in building a strong political base among the Hutu – a persistent problem for the Tutsi-dominated party born in exile – it has dampened any possible Hutu popular opposition through highly effective cross-ethnic development policies. Furthermore, all Hutu opposition political parties have been quashed, as have most dissenting voices in civil society.
The most serious threats to Kagame's leadership come from within the RPF. Thus far, he has dealt with these swiftly and effectively. But there are signs of growing discontent within the party, which could undermine many of the gains Rwanda has made since the genocide.