Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

Boycott Cedes Power To Burundi’s Ruling Party

Zack Baddorf

BUJUMBURA, Jul 26 2010 (IPS) - The coalition of 11 major opposition parties which boycotted July 23 national assembly elections will also boycott elections to the senate on July 28. The Alliance of Democrats for Change, as the coalition is known, claims that two previous polls – to elect Burundi’s district administrators and the president – were characterised by “massive fraud”.

Polling station, Bujumbura: the opposition is unhappy with measures against electoral fraud. Credit:  Olivier Boulot/IPS

Polling station, Bujumbura: the opposition is unhappy with measures against electoral fraud. Credit: Olivier Boulot/IPS

The Assembly of Democrats for Development of Burundi is one of the opposition parties boycotting the elections. The party’s president, Jean de Dieu Mutabazi, told IPS during the earlier ballots, the voting system did not allow opposition observers to verify the number of votes cast for each party.

Mutabazi told IPS the opposition parties wanted to discuss improving the process, but Burundi’s Independent National Election Commission (known by its French acronym, CENI) refused.

“Without CENI agreeing to sit down with us and change rules, we decided not to run because we basically expected to be humiliated. We didn’t want to take the chance to be humiliated by running in those elections,” said Mutabazi.

A new verification process put in place to confirm the ballots cast for the national assembly, did not satisfy the opposition coalition.

No fraud – electoral commission

Gabriel Sungura, the vice president of CENI who supervised the voting in Bujumbura, rejected the allegations of fraud – as have international observers of the polls.

“There hasn’t been any fraud that people could prove one way or the other. Sure, there have been some small irregularities, which is normal in any election whether you’re in the developed world or not,” he told IPS outside of a polling station in the capital Burundi on election day. “No fraud whatsoever.”

Sungara said political parties have an obligation to take part in the elections. “We are now a democratic country and we expect those political parties to actually come and participate in the electoral process.”

Ezéchiel Nibigira, the chair of the ruling party’s youth league, said the opposition parties know they can’t win. “For them to quit, you know, it’s normal. They know that they have been beaten.”

“In order to campaign, you need a lot of means, you need a lot of money, you spend a lot of strength,” Nibigira continued. “So they expired themselves in using a lot of strength and spending so much money.”

Some voters told IPS they didn’t vote because they don’t trust the political system.

Elias Vyamongo, a 35-year-old accountant, didn’t go to the polls Friday. “If you see the way the elections have been conducted, the results are known in advance. So it’s not necessary for me to go vote.”  

Claver Karakura, a 42-year-old engineer in Bujumbura, did cast his ballot.  

“I think (the opposition parties) have their reasons to boycott the vote, but for me as a citizen, I have accomplished my job. I know it’s my right to vote and I want[ed] to express my opinion,” said Karakura.

Yet Karakura said he already knew the results for the Friday vote. “I know that the ruling party will win, for sure,” he told IPS in downtown Bujumbura.

Opposition calls for dialogue

Despite boycotting the elections, the opposition parties hope to have a place in the government eventually announced by the leader of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy party (known by its French acronym, CNDD-FDD).

“I would expect the government to actually give to the opposition some representation with administrative responsibilities,” Mutabazi explained. “We won’t be getting any type of seats in the parliament, but it would make sense for us to have responsibility in the government.”

Mutabazi added that he expects the CNDD-FDD to guarantee the safety and freedom of speech of all political actors. He claimed the ruling party has been persecuting opposition politicians, further undermining the credibility of elections.

Mutabazi told IPS that the coalition spokesperson, Leonard Nyangoma, went into hiding before the July 23 vote after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

According to the official website of Nyangoma’s party, the opposition CNDD, he is being sought after signing a press release accusing the army of perpetrating a “massacre” of opposition supporters on July 10 in the Rubiza area just north of the capital Bujumbura, resulting in “several” deaths. The statement also alleges “mass” arrests and called for an independent international inquiry.

“Instead of voicing its disagreement, our Ministry of Defense decided to press charges,” Mutabazi told IPS.

“We would have expected [the government] to actually use proper channels and make a statement to the press. Instead they decided to use legal means to basically shut us up. And we have every reason to be afraid since they actually control the military, the police and the entire legal system.”

The army has called the allegations slanderous.

Nyangoma has been in hiding since Jul. 20; that one leading opposition candidate for president, Agathon Rwasa of the National Liberation Forces party, also went underground in June, indicates the extent of opposition fears for their safety.

The series of elections now under way are considered an important test of the country’s stability following a 13-year civil war which ended in 2006. The war killed as many as 300,000 people, and the last armed group only formally laid down its weapons in April 2009.

Security remains tight in Burundi. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab – which claimed responsibility for the Jul. 11 bombings that killed 76 people in Uganda – also threatened to attack Burundi because the country has several thousand troops in Somalia as part of the African Union mission there.

“The population will never, will never, allow anybody to destroy this peace we are having today,” said Nibigira. “We need peace. We know the past period of war. We know how people have suffered so much. As far as we are concerned we don’t want to go back in that war.”

On Jul. 28, Burundi will vote candidates into the Senate; the series of elections will end with voting for village-level representatives on Sep. 7.

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