Referendum: Campaigns heat up in Burundi

Saturday May 12 2018

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza at a campaign rally for a referendum set for May 17, 2018. AFP

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza at a campaign rally for a referendum set for May 17, 2018. The opposition complains of insecurity, while ministry insists country is safe. PHOTO | AFP 

By MOSES HAVYARIMANA
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As campaigns for Burundi’s May 17 constitutional amendment referendum hit the homestretch, both the “no” and “yes” camps are trading accusations of sabotage.

Among the sections of the law to be amended is one on presidential term limits, which was at the centre of the 2015 political crisis after the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza vied for a controversial third term in office.

While the opposition has complained of insecurity, the Ministry of Public Security insists safety has improved.

“CNDD-FDD members are blocking people from attending our meeting; they are even threatening to burn the vehicles we hire,” Opposition leader and deputy speaker of parliament Agathon Rwasa told The EastAfrican.

CNDD-FDD denied the allegations, saying that, if anything, the ruling party had called on its supporters to be tolerant.

“The electoral commission knows nothing about the allegations made by opposition members. The report we have is that referendum campaigns are going on well,” said the Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye.

But, Mr Rwasa says he doubts the referendum will be free and fair, and alleges that their members are being arrested by security forces.

The opposition is also concerned about Article 99 of the draft constitution, which states, “Candidates who can contest for the presidency as independent candidates should have not been a member of any political party for at least a period of one year.”

Mr Rwasa, who is campaigning for a “no” vote said the article strips away equal rights for all citizens.

Concerns

More than five million Burundians are expected to vote on May 17 and it remains unclear whether the regional mediated dialogue will resume if at all the Constitution is amended. If amended, parts of the Arusha agreement would be scrapped.

Critics say should the constitution be amended, President Nkurunziza could rule the country until 2034, however those for the amendment say it will make things clearer.

“The amendments will clear the chaos in the leadership because the current Constitution doesn’t give the president powers to choose his vice or deputy,” said Pascal Nyabenda, who is currently the speaker of parliament.

The Burundi Catholic Church had last week expressed its concern on the timing of the referendum, but called on citizens to stay united despite differences in political opinion.

“The referendum is taking place in a climate of persistent intimidation and repression and marked with absence of consensual approach between different societal and political groups,” said high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on behalf of the EU.

Ms Mogherini said that the EU remains deeply concerned about the human-rights situation in the country, which undermines any initiative for reconciliation, peace and justice.

The EU suspended direct aid to the government in 2015, citing human rights violation in the country when protests against the incumbent president erupted.

According to the UN more than 1,000 people have died while over 400,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since 2015 when President Nkurunziza vied for another term in office.