Civil society groups in Burundi warned they will oppose any extension of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s mandate, as officials counted ballots a day after an opposition-boycotted election in which he sought a third term.
The Forum of Civil Society Organizations said it will no longer recognize Nkurunziza as president when his current term expires on Aug. 26, according to a statement on the Facebook page of civil society leader Pacifique Nininahazwe. The group urged its supporters to “come together now to find a democratic alternative to the current crisis.” The electoral agency is scheduled to announce the results on Friday.
Nkurunziza’s decision in April to run again to extend his decade-long rule sparked protests that left at least 77 people dead, forced 170,000 to flee their homes and triggered a failed military coup. Critics argue he’s violating a two-term limit set out in a peace accord that in 2005 ended a 12-year civil war. Supporters say the first term shouldn’t count as Nkurunziza was chosen by parliament, not by popular vote.
The United Nations says the unrest in Burundi has the potential to destabilize the Great Lakes region that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s top copper and tin producer, and Rwanda, which had a genocide in 1994. Civil wars in the early 1990s in Burundi and Rwanda set the stage for conflict in neighboring Congo, the deadliest war in Africa’s modern history.
Government leaders including former Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri and a deputy president of the country’s Constitutional Court have fled the country after opposing Nkurunziza’s bid to seek re-election.
Tuesday’s vote was a “sham,” said Rufyikiri in an interview with France24, the Paris-based broadcaster. The U.S. said Burundi’s presidential elections will not be credible and it’s considering sanctions, including visa restrictions, on anyone responsible or complicit in using violence to create instability in the East African country.
At least four of Nkurunziza’s eight opponents in the vote, including the main opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, withdrew their candidacy, citing a lack of freedom to campaign.
The UN said earlier this month that Burundi’s parliamentary elections held on June 29, in which the ruling CNDD-FDD party won the majority of seats, weren’t free or fair.
As many as 3,000 refugees are crossing on foot through forested areas of Burundi into Tanzania every day, according to the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. Humanitarian workers are struggling to cope with the influx amid dwindling food and water supplies and inadequate shelter. Only about 14 percent of an appeal for $207 million to address the emergency in Burundi has been raised, according to the UN.