- The president tasked Tito Rutaremara, Joseph Karemera and Antoine Mugesera to come up with a formula that would deliver "change, continuity and stability" after 2017, when his constitutional term as president expires.
- Going by the timeline of events and views of party officials, a third term for Kagame is very much likely, observers say.
President Paul Kagame has launched a process that could finally end the debate on a third term for him, by tasking three senior members of his Rwandan Patriotic Front to come up with a "transition formula."
The president used the platform of the party's national executive committee (NEC) on February 8 to task Tito Rutaremara, Joseph Karemera and Antoine Mugesera to come up with a formula that would deliver "change, continuity and stability" after 2017, when his constitutional term as president expires.
A senior RPF member, who spoke on condition of anonymity said President Kagame informed them that he was in a "dilemma" over the third term question.
Mr Rutaremara would not discuss if the options included proposing a third term for President Kagame, simply stating: "Those saying Kagame should go just because his term is finished are being lazy. We are responsible people we have to study everything. We must get a formula that shall give us maximum of change, continuity and stability."
At the meeting, the source said, Kagame briefly talked about the Congo issue, which has damaged relations between his government and development partners, and dedicated the better part of the discussion to the third term question.
Mr Rutaremara said, "The president has said he is not interested in the third term… but he also does not want to look like he is running away from responsibility — and by the way, he is not the one to decide."
Traditionally, RPF's NEC meetings are held very much in secret, and observers say the fact that selected journalists were invited along with party members who are now willing to share what transpired, means something bigger.
Opinion is divided among political commentators and observers in Kigali.
Some say if these discussions were primarily meant to trigger an internal search for Kagame's successor, they depict a party that has matured politically.
Some observers say that by opening up the debate, President Kagame may be testing the waters to ascertain the feasibility of his presidential ambitions beyond 2017, if indeed he harbours any.
"If he has thrown open the debate so his departure is discussed well in time and a search instituted for a suitable candidate to lead the change, it will be good for him and for internal democracy of the party," said Dr Christopher Kayumba, a lecturer at the National University of Rwanda's School of Journalism.
However, Mr Rutaremara said that looking at removal of term limits was insufficient because the "formula" may lie in having internal changes within RPF.
That way, observers say, if the country elects a new president (from RPF) the party will have delivered change at the presidential level and maintained continuity at the party level.
Thus, a new person running the presidency and Kagame remaining an influential figure in the management of RPF affairs would act as a stabilising factor.
This would require RPF to reorganise itself along lines of the likes of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) or the Communist Party of China, where the party has powers to recall the president.
Such structures would necessitate constitutional amendments because the president would no longer be voted in through universal suffrage but selected by the winning party.
In private, quite a number of senior RPF officials prefer this approach.
Yet, sources say, during the February 8 meeting, the junior party members present were in favour of the removal of term limits while others talked of a "Putin style" scenario.
Going by the timeline of events and views of party officials, a third term for Kagame is very much likely, observers say.
"If the Constitution is clear on what must happen in 2017, why should he be bothered? Why the debate?" Dr Kayumba asked; indeed, this is a question that bothers many in Kigali.
Frank Habineza, the president of the yet to be registered PS Imberakuri political party, said his party will not accept the lifting of term limits and threatened to sue whoever tampers with the Constitution.
"We find this debate uncalled for; it looks like some people within RPF are laying the grounds for a possible lifting of term limits. RPF, like any other political party, wishes to stay in power for several decades, but there is a better way of achieving that than changing the Constitution. They should accept competition and an open democratic space. They already lack democratic credentials, and if they push for the lifting of term limits, then they will lose any remaining trust among Rwandans and friends of Rwanda," the opposition politician said.
In 2010, when Minister of Internal Security Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana called for the lifting of term limits to allow Kagame to run for a third term, the president dismissed the minister's statements.
However, a few week ago, Kagame told journalists at a press conference in Kigali that it was not yet the right time to discuss the possibility of a third term in office, preferring to postpone such talk "until that time comes."