Burundi opposition deems fair elections ‘impossible’

The opposition in Burundi has said plans for polls to go ahead despite widespread civil unrest in the capital of Bujumbura was tantamount to an “electoral hold-up” by President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial bid for a third consecutive term has plunged the central African nation into a deep political crisis.

“The country has sunk into a political and security mess which in no way can allow for peaceful, transparent, free or credible elections,” Burundi’s main opposition parties said in a joint statement.

“Having an election campaign or holding a vote is impossible. We cannot have an electoral hold-up,” the statement said, accusing Nkurunziza and the ruling CNDD-FDD party of silencing independent media, detaining opponents and provoking a major refugee crisis.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held on June 5, with a presidential poll scheduled for June 26. On Tuesday, the government appealed for public donations from “patriotic citizens” so that it could organise the elections, which have been hit by a funding freeze by the central African nation’s former colonial power Belgium as well as the European Union.

The opposition and rights groups say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violates the Constitution as well as the terms of a peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war in 2006.

Violent crackdown
Street protests have taken place for the past month, leaving at least 30 dead in a violent crackdown by security forces.

The crisis intensified earlier this month when a top general staged a failed coup attempt.

The opposition parties said the crisis risked plunging the small, landlocked and impoverished country back into civil war.

“Endorsing such a process is equivalent to supporting a predictable civil war in Burundi,” the statement said, adding that foreign governments should “never recognise the election results”.

There was no immediate response from the government, although on Tuesday spokesperson Philippe Nzobonariba used state radio to condemn mounting diplomatic pressure and signal that Nkurunziza would not bow to international criticism.

Attacks by ruling party militia
In Bujumbura on Wednesday, police were again out in force to halt any renewed anti-Nkurunziza protests, with tear-gas used to quickly break up gatherings. Only small groups of demonstrators massed in the districts of Cibitoke and Buterere, with shots heard ringing out in the area, according to media correspondents.

On Tuesday evening, at least one person was killed in a raid by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD, which has been likened to a pro-government militia, residents said.

Leading opposition campaigner Pacifique Nininahazwe said the group’s activities, including “punitive operations” against opponents, were being stepped up in the capital.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian, says his first term did not count as he was elected by Parliament, not directly by the people. His bid for re-election has strong support in rural areas and among sections of the Hutu majority.

Asked to rule on the issue of a third term, Burundi’s Constitutional Court found in the president’s favour, but not before one of the judges fled the country claiming its members had received death threats.

The East African Community (EAC) – a regional grouping of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi – has announced plans to hold a second meeting on the crisis on Sunday in Tanzania’s main city of Dar es Salaam.

Nkurunziza was at an EAC summit in Dar es Salaam on May 13 when the coup attempt was launched, but the EAC statement has said all the bloc’s leaders will attend the next meeting. – AFP

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