Opposition opts out of 28 June Burundian polls
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Burundi’s opposition has limited support and few options, leaving
President Pierre Nkurunziza to run uncontested, says Thierry Vircoulon,
the project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis
The Burundian opposition’s boycott of presidential poll on 28 June is part of a strategy to raise international awareness of what it considers non-democratic local elections that were held in May. United under a new umbrella, the Alliance des Démocrates pour le Changement, opposition parties say they expect the presidential poll to be rigged by the ruling Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces de Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD).
The situation has escalated in recent weeks with a series of grenade attacks. There are now serious concerns about the safety of Agathon Rwasa, leader of the Forces Nationales de Libération (FLN), who disappeared on 23 June. Last week, rumours were circulating in Bujumbura that Rwasa, a main challenger to President Pierre Nkurunziza, would be arrested. Supporters gathered around his house and 30 to 40 of them were arrested. Some were beaten.
The opposition has few options left, except to disrupt the voting and counting process of the presidential poll, where Nkurunziza is the only candidate. However, this could be very counterproductive and destabilising.
Local elections on 24 May brought an unexpectedly high score for the CNDD-FDD, which won 64.% of the votes. Opposition parties claimed that the vote was free but by no means fair and have refused to accept the results. However, they were overconfident and misjudged the strength of their support. Observers and media pointed to some electoral irregularities, such as the delayed start of the voting process in some polling stations, the insufficient number of ballot papers in some districts and the behaviour of some local political representatives who tried to influence voters waiting in queues.
However, the opposition’s allegations of rigging were not confirmed by the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante or election observers. The Coalition de la Société Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral, a Burundian civil society coalition, deployed 4,600 observers. The EU observation mission was composed of 90 members. They noted some irregularities and said the logistics could have been better.
One of the main reasons for the CNDD-FDD’s landslide victory is President Nkurunziza’s popularity in rural areas, where 90% of Burundi’s population lives. Nzurunziza’s campaign focused on popular measures taken by the government such efforts to improve access to education and the delivery of free healthcare for children and pregnant women. The opposition parties received their best scores in big cities such as Bujumbura, where the FNL secured 57.5% of the vote, a long way ahead of the CNDD-FDD’s 26.6%.
Ethnic identity is still a decisive factor. Although the campaign has not been ethnicised and political parties cannot have candidates from only one ethnic group, Hutus voted for Hutu-dominated parties and Tutsi acted in the same way.
The current electoral crisis has been born out of a combination of problems. The electoral preparations were not smooth. The led-up to the May polls was marked by localised violence, attempts to influence the composition of the electoral commission in favour of the ruling party, manoeuvres to politicise the voter registration process and bids to prevent electoral meetings. Although these attempts did not succeed – the ruling party had to back down over the composition of the electoral commission and electoral timetable – they nevertheless resulted in a lack of confidence between the ruling party and opposition. There are also problems between the opposition and the electoral commission. Opposition parties had called for the establishment of a new commission and the replacement of its director, Pierre Claver Ndayicariye.
The opposition parties has already made it clear that they will not recognise the results of the 28 June polls. It is difficult to predict whether violence will erupt or not. It will depend on voter turnout and the conclusions of the observation missions. While the opposition parties withdrew from the presidential race, they can still participate in legislative elections scheduled for late July. This even more problematic process is yet to come.