KIGALI - Rwandans voted in parliamentary elections Monday, with the central African nation's strongman Paul Kagame predicting a solid win for his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
The RPF has dominated Rwanda since ousting Hutu extremists and ending the genocide nearly 20 years ago, and has overseen the country's dramatic transformation from trauma to economic success story.
Analysts say the RPF faced no serious opposition, with only a handful of small parties or independent candidates hoping to scrape a few seats in parliament, and prominent opposition figures sidelined.
At the school where President Paul Kagame cast his vote security was tight, with a sniffer dog on hand to inspect bags and security checks for voters going through a metal-detector gate and an x-ray machine set up specially for the occasion.
Asked whether he expects the RPF to win comfortably, Kagame said: "I guess so. I don't see any reason why the RPF should not win with a big margin."
Questioned about accusations of political repression in Rwanda, Kagame retorted: "Is that what you see around you in the voting? You have eyes. Use them to see what is happening and you'll get the answer."
Rwandan voters queue outside at a polling station in the capital Kigali on voting day. PHOTO/AFP
Voting was marked by orderly lines outside booths draped in the sky blue, green and yellow of the Rwandan flag, with some playing music.
Cars with loudspeakers cruised the pristine streets of the capital, neatly lined with palm trees, reminding voters not to forget their ID cards.
Turnout in Rwanda, where some 6 million people were eligible to vote in this poll, is normally high.
Counting started promptly when voting ended in mid-afternoon, with the first results in one bureau in the capital showing the RPF leading by a wide margin.
"I'm 20, it's the first time I can vote so it's important," said Sandrine, a mobile phone seller who was among the first to vote at a polling station in the capital.
The only incident to upset the pre-vote atmosphere was the death of two people in grenade explosions over the weekend in a market in Kigali, a city reputed to be among Africa's safest.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the Rwandan government blamed dissidents linked to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group which operates across the border in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The FDLR includes remnants of Hutu militia who carried out the 1994 genocide.
Supporters of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party attend a campaign rally ahead of the polls. PHOTO/AFP
For the parliamentary polls, the RPF is leading a coalition that includes four smaller parties.
Facing them, three small parties -- the Liberals, Social Democrats and the PS-Imberakuri -- have been campaigning for a handful of the seats.
"Of the various opposition parties that are standing none are opposition parties in the real sense of the term, in that they don't criticise the RPF and its policies," Carine Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
The opposition Green Party, which finally managed to register last month after several years of trying, said the approval came too late to allow it to prepare.
Out of the 80 seats in parliament, 53 are directly elected and 27 are reserved for women, young and disabled people -- who are indirectly appointed by local and national councils on Tuesday and Wednesday.
This configuration has ensured that Rwanda has the only parliament in the world where women are in a majority -- 56.3 percent after the last elections.
Kagame's RPF currently holds 42 out of the 53 directly elected seats, while deputies holding the indirectly elected seats, although in principle non-partisan, have been supportive of the majority.
With Rwanda's economy one of the continent's fastest growing, the government is keen to show off the elections as a badge of national unity and democratic health.
The small nation was left in ruins by the genocide of 1994, in which close to a million people, mostly from the ethnic Tutsi minority, were butchered by Hutu extremists.
Now Transparency International ranks Rwanda as the least corrupt country in Africa, while the World Bank's ease of doing business index for 2013 ranked Rwanda 52nd out of 185 countries, and third best in sub-Saharan Africa.