On Tuesday, Burundi will hold controversial presidential elections despite the African country being rocked by deadly protests since April against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s divisive bid to stand for a third term in office. The opposition has maintained that the President’s move is unconstitutional and that it violates a peace agreement that ended a civil war in 2006.
Since the demonstration began, at least 100 people have been killed and scores wounded in clashes that have erupted between demonstrators and police and ruling party militia. The UN has reported that more than 150,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.
Key Dates and Events Leading Up to Tuesday’s Vote:
26 April 2015 – Police clash with protesters in several parts of the capital, Bujumbura. The clashes come just a day after President Nkurunziza is declared candidate for a third term in office by his ruling CNDD-FDD party.
Police used live rounds, tear gas and water cannons in order to prevent thousands of youths from marching to the city centre. Demonstrators were shot dead in clashes with police while others were killed in alleged attacks carried out by the ruling party’s youth wing, which have been likened to a militia.
President Nkurunziza’s Candidacy Validated
5 May – The Constitutional Court clears the president to run for at third term in office. The judgement, which was signed by six out seven judges, comes just hours after the court’s vice president fled the country after refusing to sign the judgement and claiming that judges had been subjected to death threats.
Order to Stop the Demonstration
9 May – The government orders protesters to “immediately and unconditionally” end the protests and orders all barricades to be removed within 48 hours however the demands are ignored.
13 May – A top Burundian general, Godefroid Niyombare, announces the overthrown of President Nkurunziza. The attempted coup occurred hours after the president left the country for neighbouring Tanzania to attend talks with regional leaders on ending the political crisis.
15 May – Coup leaders announce that they are surrendering after failing to capture the state broadcaster from the presidential guard. According to the government, Niyombare avoids capture and goes on the run. President Nkurunziza returns to the presidential palace in the capital city.
Opposition Leader Assassinated
23 May – The leader of a small opposition party, Zedi Feruzi, is shot dead.
Parliament Speaker Defects
28 June – Parliament head Pie Ntavyohanyuma announces that he has fled to Belgium. He denounces the president’s “illegal” bid for a third term.
Legislative and Local Elections
29 June – The ruling CNDD sweeps to an expected overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition and which were criticized by the international community
Violent Attacks in Cibitoke Suburb
1 July – Six people, including one police officer, were killed in gun battles in the capital’s Cibitoke district. According to police, five of those killed were members of an armed group.
Call to Delay the Presidential Vote
6 July – East African leaders demand that the Burundian government delay the presidential election by two weeks, until 30 July. Burundian officials however only delay the election by one week, to 21 July
Clashes Erupt in Northern Region of Country
10 July – Clashes erupted between the army and an armed group in the provinces of Kayanza and Cibitoke, near the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the Burundian army, more than 220 people have since been captured there.
15 July – Rival political factions meet for crisis talks, which are mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. It is a last-ditch effort, following months of violence ahead of the presidential elections.
19 July – The talks are suspended, amidst mutual recriminations, after the government fails to show up.
Burundi’s president on Monday chose to skip key regional talks, opting to stay at home instead in order to campaign for a controversial third term in power as a rebel general threatened to step up attacks.
Leaders of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) bloc met in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam on Monday to discuss the ongoing political situation in Burundi. A statement released shortly after the summit indicated that East African leaders have called on the Burundian government to delay the 15 July presidential election by two weeks, effectively moving it to 30 July. During the meeting, leaders also named Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as mediator of a dialogue between the Burundian government and the opposition. The decision comes in the wake of the ruling party stating that UN mediator Abdoulaye Bathily must immediately stop his work as he began without first being received by the government. Nyabenda has indicated that the ruling CNDD-FDD party is ready to work with the Ugandan President Museveni’s mediation efforts. The EAC also called on Burundi to disarm armed groups, including the Imbonerakure, or youth wing of Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party, and for rival factions to form a government of national unity “irrespective of whoever wins the presidential election.”
On Tuesday, Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party indicated that it will conditionally accept the call by the EAC to delay the 15 July presidential election by two weeks, effectively moving it to 30 July. Party chairman Pascal Nyabenda has disclosed that any decision to delay the vote must ensure that the constitution, which mandates that presidential elections cannot go beyond 26 July, is not violated, with the constitution also stating that the president-elect must be sworn in by 26 August. President Nkurunziza opted to miss Monday’s summit and instead sent his foreign minister. Nkurunziza stayed in Burundi to lead his presidential campaign in the central regions of Gitega and Mwaro.
Official results released Tuesday indicate that the ruling party of President Nkurunziza has swept to an expected overwhelming victory in controversial parliament elections that were boycotted by the opposition. The election commission announced that the CNDD-FDD party won 77 out of 100 selected seats in parliament, with two more seats going to its ally UPRONA. The election commission also announced that despite the opposition boycotting the polls, and calling on its supporters not to vote, the coalition Independents of Hope group of Agathon Rwasa and Charles Nditije won 11 seats. The commission has indicated that overall, voter turnout was 74 percent. The opposition has rejected the results, with Rwasa stating shortly after the announcement, “we reject these results because the parliament and legislative elections were not credible.” Both the African Union (AU) and European Union have condemned the polls. Former colonial power Belgium has also stated that it will not recognize the results.
Meanwhile rebel general Leonard Nendakumana, who took part in a failed coup in May, has vowed to carry out further attacks until the government is overthrown. In an interview that was broadcast late Sunday, Nendakumana told Kenya’s KTN news agency, “after we saw that we could not succeed our coup on May 15, we found it was necessary to keep fighting so that we can push Nkurunziza to keep thinking about what he is doing and maybe just resign,” adding, “all those actions that are going on in the country, we are behind them and we are going to intensify them until Pierre Nkurunziza understands that we are there to make him understand by force that he has to give up his third term.” Nendakumana further stated, “there was a need to organize that coup to make a change in the country because the situation was very bad… Mr Nkurunziza and his team were leading the country in a situation of civil war, and we could not accept that our population, our country, were led into a civil war,” adding “they are trying to move towards an open civil war just to find a way to protect themselves.”
General Nendakumana, a top intelligence officer, is an ally of coup leader General Godefroid Niyombare, who has been on the run since their attempt to seize power failed. In more than two months of protests, over seventy people have been killed, with almost 1440,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.