* Voting peaceful, isolated reports of intimidation
(Updates with counting started, adds analyst, detail)
By Hereward Holland
KIGALI, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Rwandans voted in large numbers on
Monday after a presidential election campaign that rights groups
said was marred by repression and violence against critics of
incumbent Paul Kagame, who is expected to win by a landslide.
Counting was under way and preliminary results were expected
late on Monday. At one voting centre, Kagame won 98.8 percent of
the vote, according to results posted outside, a Reuters witness
Kagame won the last election in 2003 -- the first since the
1994 genocide -- with 95 percent of the vote.
Analysts said the electorate was expected to again vote
overwhelmingly for Kagame, partly because of the economic growth
and stability he has delivered during his decade in power and
also because of a crackdown on rivals and critics.
Kagame's three registered rivals are weak and linked closely
to his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), they said. Three
would-be candidates accused the government of preventing them
from registering to contest the election.
Casting his ballot in Kiyovu, a wealthy suburb of the
capital Kigali, Kagame said it was not his duty to create an
opposition and said his focus would be to continue nurturing
growth in the land-locked central African country if re-elected.
"We are already on a good footing and we want to attract
more investment in the country and grow our trade with the
region and beyond. I want to consolidate that and continue more
growth," he told reporters at the Rugunga Primary School polling
Despite being land-locked and poor in resources, Rwanda is a
rising star in Africa for donors and investors and Kagame has
been feted as a visionary leader and African icon.
While most of Rwanda's neighbours and donors are expected to
be happy with a Kagame win, some analysts said the most dominant
figure in post genocide Rwanda would likely have to repair his
"Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front party face the
difficult challenge of trying to repair their image, which has
been dented by claims of growing political repression in the
run-up to today's poll, said Gus Selassie, Africa analyst at IHS
Global Insight, in a briefing note.
Voting across the land-locked country was peaceful, with
some stations registering 100 percent turnout well before polls
were due to close, National Electoral Commission Chairman
Chrisilogue Karangwa told Reuters.
In at least one incident, however, voters were ushered into
polling stations hours before voting officially opened and
instructed to vote for Kagame.
"The first picture on the ballot sheet was Kagame. We were
told to take their thumbs and show them where to vote. I know
personally because I oversaw 83 people," said one man
identifying himself as a village chief and RPF member.
A second man in the same village in Rwanda's Eastern
province told Reuters he used a megaphone to order sleeping
residents to vote: "Wake up, go to vote early, the one you have
to vote for, you know him."
Anil Gayan, an African Union observer and former Mauritian
minister of foreign affairs, told reporters: "I don't believe
there was anything irregular with regard to the voting process
that started on time."
Development and security were voters' main preoccupations.
"I think Kagame will win because he developed the country
and brought security to the whole country," said Floridine
Umurenge, a young unemployed mother of two, clutching a baby and
her voter card.
Kagame assumed the presidency in 2000 but has been in de
facto power since his rebel army swept to power and ended the
slaughter of 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu in 1994.
The genocide was spawned, in part, by a surge of radical
ethnic politics that followed the birth of multiparty democracy
in the country in the early 1990s.
(Editing by Richard Lough and Alison Williams)