Burundi Parly Speaker Flees On Eve Of Controversial Poll

Bujumbura – The head of Burundi’s parliament on Sunday said he had fled the country on the eve of key elections following weeks of violence, denouncing the president’s “illegal” third term bid.

The news of the latest senior political figure to jump ship came as the African Union announced it would not act as an observer in Monday’s parliamentary polls in Burundi.

The conditions were not right for “credible elections” after weeks of violent protests and international calls for the vote to be delayed, AU commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.

Last month the European Union said it was suspending its electoral observer mission to Burundi.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has called for the elections to be delayed, urged the Burundi government to ensure that voting takes place in a secure environment.

International criticism

The UN chief said in a statement Sunday that he was “concerned about the government of Burundi’s insistence on going ahead with elections on 29 June despite the prevailing political and security environment”.

Amid the international criticism of the government’s defiant refusal to delay the vote, parliament head Pie Ntavyohanyuma said on Sunday he had fled to Belgium due to the violence, criticising President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to stay in power for a third term.

“For the moment, I am forced to stay in Brussels… I stayed here given the difficulties in my country, difficulties which are due to the illegal third mandate of the president,” parliament speaker Pie Ntavyohanyuma told France 24.

Several top officials – including the deputy vice-president Gervais Rufyikiri as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court – have also fled the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.

‘Illegal mandate’

“On the eve of the election… I would like to say to him [Nkurunziza] that the mandate he wants to have is illegal. I would like to say to him that forcing through the election is senseless,” Ntavyohanyuma told the broadcaster.

Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way to end 13 years of civil war in 2006.

But the government has defied all requests for a delay, and the electoral commission said Sunday all was ready for the parliamentary polls. The presidential election is also still scheduled for July 15.

“Everything is ready in the country,” election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye told reporters Sunday, saying all voting material had been delivered to the more than 11 000 polling centres across the country.

Three people were killed overnight Saturday, adding to the more than 70 killed in weeks of violence and a failed coup sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to stay in power for a third term.

The opposition on Friday said it was boycotting the polls, claiming it is not possible to hold a fair vote, with over 127,000 people having fled into neighbouring countries, fearing further violence.

But Ndayicariye said that votes cast for the opposition would still count.

“This is nothing new in Burundi. In Africa, boycott is another way of doing politics,” he said. The opposition boycotted polls in 2010.

‘Intimidation and violence’

Burundi was plunged into turmoil in late April when Nkurunziza launched his drive for a third consecutive five-year term, triggering widespread protests.

Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way to end 13 years of civil war in 2006.

Civil society groups backed the boycott in a joint statement calling on voters to skip the “sham elections” and urging the international community “not to recognise the validity” of the polls.

“Thousands of Burundians have fled the country, a thousand peaceful demonstrators were arrested, tortured, and are currently languishing in jail,” the statement said.

Former colonial power Belgium has said it would not recognise the results of the elections, saying it is “impossible” for the polls to be held in an “acceptable manner”.

The ruling CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, the fearsome Imbonerakure whose name means “The Watchmen” or, literally, “Those Who See Far”, has been accused by the UN of waging a campaign of intimidation and violence.