Burundian Opposition Rejects President’s Re-Election Win

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Pierre Nkurunziza
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza. countries. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Burundian opposition parties that boycotted presidential elections rejected the results, which gave Pierre Nkurunziza a third term that opponents say is illegal.

A new vote should be held that gives politicians outside the ruling party the room to campaign freely with international observers monitoring the process, said Frederic Bamvuginyumvira, a spokesman for a group of 10 political parties, in a Friday phone interview. He said their struggle would continue until new elections are organized, without specifying any plans.

U.S. President Barack Obama also criticized Burundi’s elections, describing them as “not credible,” in a press conference held Saturday in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

Nkurunziza’s decision in April to stand again triggered a public backlash and an attempted military coup, which was quickly extinguished. Street demonstrations in the capital, Bujumbura, led to fighting with security forces, leaving at least 77 people dead and spreading fears that drove more than 170,000 refugees to neighboring countries.

Opponents say Nkurunziza, 51, is violating a two-term limit set out in 2005 peace accords that ended a 12-year civil war. Supporters argue that his first term doesn’t count because he was chosen by parliament rather than by popular vote.

“We are calling on the government and the opposition to come together in a dialogue that leads to a political solution to the crisis and avoids the loss of more innocent life,” Obama said Saturday, the second day of his two-country visit to East Africa.

Breaking Point

The ruling CNDD-FDD has been clear that Nkurunziza plans to serve out his entire five-year term and any proposal to form a unity government would rely on the parties devising a compromise, Yolande Bouka, a Burundi researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said in a phone interview

Rifts in the army have the potential for rising conflict, Bouka said. The country’s ex-intelligence chief, Godefroid Niyombare, led a group of military officers in the failed coup in May, calling for a political dialogue.

“Should these divisions worsen and reach their breaking point, then elements of the armed forces sympathetic to the armed opposition could provide the capital necessary to make an armed rebellion viable,” she said.

Regional efforts led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to mediate between the government and opposition groups to end the political crisis broke down before the elections on July 21.

Agathon Rwasa, an opposition leader who joined other opponents in withdrawing his candidacy to protest a lack of freedom to campaign, came second with 19 percent of the vote against Nkurunziza’s 69.4 percent. Even after candidates pulled out of the race, their names appeared on the ballot.

The U.K. warned the landlocked nation of 10 million people risks undoing the gains since the end of the civil war. The authorities in Burundi harassed opposition and civil society members, closed media outlets and intimidated voters in the run-up to the polls, according to the U.S. State Department.

The unrest has raised fears of spillover in a region that includes Rwanda, where a genocide took place in 1994, and copper- and cobalt-producing Democratic Republic of Congo, which had the deadliest war in Africa’s modern history.

The East African nation’s Constitutional Court is expected to review the tally and confirm the final election results within nine days.

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