Presidential and general elections are set to continue as normal for Burundi on May 20, yet the Burundian government’s announcement that election observers sent by the East African Community will be subject to a fourteen-day quarantine has raised fears that the election will be marred by corruption and rigging. Due to the timing of the observers’ arrival, the quarantine will only be lifted two days after the election date.
Further piling on the distrust is a decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI)—appointed by outgoing president Pierre Nkurunziza and largely loyalists of his ruling CNDD-FDD party—to publicly withhold the updated eligible voters list, which the opposition suspects will result in falsified votes on election day.
Animosity and Violence
The situation risks descending into a full-blown political crisis, especially as it has become genuinely competitive. Agathon Rwasa, head of the newly formed opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL), has generated enormous public support and comparisons to Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi’s first democratically elected president in 1993 whose inauguration brought nearly four decades of military dictatorship to an end.
Violent clashes have already tainted campaigning ahead of the elections.
Amnesty International and other civil rights groups have reported that Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD was responsible for the disappearance, torture, and murders of hundreds of Rwasa’s political supporters. Such animosity makes it unlikely the CNDD-FDD would accept defeat, or that the CNL would accept unfavorable election results reported by CENI.
What’s more, the 2018 constitutional referendum eliminated the kind of power-sharing measures that were part of the 2005 constitution, drafted as part of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, further disincentivizing opposition parties to accept a loss. Violent clashes have already tainted campaigning ahead of the elections, and both domestic and foreign observers await the final results to see if their worst predictions come to pass.