Burundi moots removal of term limits

Saturday August 27 2016

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. PHOTO | FILE

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. PHOTO | FILE 

By MOSES HAVYARIMANA

Burundi could scrap presidential term-limits if a proposal by a commission is adopted.

However, opposition is calling for a referendum on the matter as proposed by a commission formed last year to seek public views on how to ensure political stability in the country.

The Burundi opposition accused the Inter Burundi Dialogue Commission of serving the interests of President Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power.

“Burundians already expressed themselves in March 2014 when parliament rejected the president’s move to amend the constitution and we can only use article 7 of the Constitution to organise a referendum,” Leonce Ngendakumana the chairman of FRODEBU, the leading opposition party, told The EastAfrican.

Mr Ngendakumana said the political crisis in the country will be better addressed by stopping violence on politicians, the media and civil society than removing term limits.

“Stop the assassinations, stop arrests and fight against poverty. These are the urgent needs for the people,” he said.

On Tuesday, Inter-Burundi Dialogue Commission chairman Justin Nzoyisaba said views it collected from across the country favoured removal of the two-term limit for the president.

“On the Constitution, the majority of participants want the president to exercise more than two terms… This means they want the removal of term limits in the country’s Constitution,” said Mr Nzoyisaba.

This would necessitate a review of the Arusha Accord and the country’s Constitution, which prohibit a president from seeking a third term in office.  Article 96 of the Constitution states that the president is elected by direct universal suffrage for a term of five years, renewable once.

Speaking after the commission’s term was extended by another six months, Mr Nzoyisaba also said the public supported an inclusive government. 

“I can’t specifically say what the Burundians said but I can note that they raised their concerns on the quotas of 60 per cent Hutu and 40 per cent Tutsi, which disregards the Twa ethnic group,” he said.

According to the report, Burundians also rejected calls for former presidents to automatically become senators, preferring that senators be elected.  

Mr Nzoyisaba said the commission would now reach out to political stakeholders including those in refugee camps or outside the country.

“We will have to reach out to every Burundian who wish as to contribute in efforts to restore peace and stability in the country,” said Mr Nzoyisaba.

Article 16 of the Constitution requires that all Burundians must be represented in the government.”

Mr Ngendakumana accused the commission of insincerity, saying it would consult other political groups after presenting the report.

“How can you present the report and then consult the others later. He should have first met the rest before presenting the report,” Mr Ngendakumana said.

He said the opposition was only committed to the dialogue under the mediation of Uganda president Yoweri Museveni.

An analyst who requested anonymity for security reasons said Burundi was drifting into a single party regime with a weak opposition that cannot hold the establishment to account.

“This is where we can see the beginning of the removal of the term limits. We have seen this in Rwanda, Uganda and other countries so the ruling party is positioning itself to rule the country for decades. It may take decades to see a strong opposition in the country,” the political analyst said.

The Inter-Burundi dialogue commission will present its report to parliament and the senate for approval. If it sails through the two houses, it will be given to the resident for endorsement.