Burundians vote on laws that extend leader’s term
Amendment will increase terms to seven years and allowing president to stand again in 2020
Burundians voted today in a referendum on constitutional reforms that, if passed, will shore up the power of President Pierre Nkurunziza and enable him to rule until 2034.
Police, soldiers and armoured vehicles were out in force for the referendum, which comes three years after Nkurunziza sought a controversial third term, triggering a political crisis that has killed 1,200 and forced 400,000 from their homes.
Long lines were seen at polling stations around the country. However, opposition parties and witnesses reported that polling officials and a feared youth militia, the Imbonerakure, had been intimidating voters or going door-to-door to demand people turn out to cast their ballot.
There were “intimidations of every kind and even people going to polling stations, forcing people to vote against their will,” said main opposition leader and former rebel Agathon Rwasa.
In contrast, presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe on Twitter praised the “peaceful climate” in which many turned out to vote.
“I came at dawn because I was impatient to vote ‘yes’ to consolidate the independence and sovereignty of our country,” said a farmer, who gave his name only as Miburo, in the town of Ngozi.
Polling stations began closing at 1400 GMT and counting got underway immediately. It was unclear when results would be announced.
Some 4.8 million people, or a little under half the population, had signed up to vote, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). They were asked simply to vote “yes” or “no” in the “constitutional referendum of May 2018” with no question posed on the ballot.
The current constitution allows a president to serve two five-year terms.
In 2015, Nkurunziza claimed that because he had been elected by parliament in 2005, he was entitled to a third term — a move that unleashed a spiral of deadly violence.
The sweeping reforms, which include increasing terms to seven years, would allow him to stand again in 2020.
The changes will be adopted if more than 50 per cent of cast ballots are in favour.
With opponents cowed and exiled, there seems little doubt the amendments will pass, enabling the 54-year-old Nkurunziza — in power since 2005 — to remain in charge for another 16 years.
Since his third-term run, journalists, activists and members of civil society have been forced into exile, and, according to the FIDH, “the entirety of the political, administrative, judicial and security systems have come under the stranglehold of the president’s clan”.
Mr Nkurunziza is an evangelical who believes he was chosen by God to rule the small, poor east African nation, and spends much time engaged in religious activities or playing football.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said there had been “a campaign of terror to force Burundians to vote yes”.
However not all did so.
A 60-year-old woman, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP by telephone she voted no “out of conviction, to show that a large part of the population is resisting even if I know they will steal our vote.”
No international observers are monitoring the vote, and most foreign correspondents were prevented from entering the country due to administrative hurdles.
Burundi’s press regulator has suspended local broadcasts by the BBC and Voice of America (VOA).
For many critics, the referendum is yet another blow to hopes of lasting peace in the fledgling democracy.
Burundi’s history has been marked by violence between majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi who had long held power.
Decades of sporadic violence exploded in 1993 after the assassination of the country’s first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, unleashing a civil war that would last until 2006 and leave more than 300,000 dead.
A peace deal, signed in the Tanzanian city of Arusha in 2000, paved the way to ending the fighting.
It also led to a constitution — now due to be changed — that limited presidential terms and ensured power could not be concentrated in the hands of either ethnic group. (AFP)
I came at dawn because I was impatient to vote ‘yes’ to consolidate the independence and sovereignty of our country’’
A farmer, who gave his name only as Miburo, in the town of Ngozi.
Staff check the vallot box for the referendum on a controversial constitutional reform in Ngozi, northern Burundi, yesterday. The constitutional amendment would allow the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza, a 65-year-old former rebel leader who has ruled since 2006, to remain for another 17 years in power.