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Tutsi Party: Burundi Referendum Illegal

The leader of a Tutsi party in Burundi says the upcoming referendum on his country's constitution is illegal.

The chairman of the Tutsi political party Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development, Joseph Nzeimana, told VOA the November 26 referendum in which Burundians will vote on whether or not to accept the country's new constitution must be postponed.

"It is against the law. Everything has to get through the government, assembly, senate, and then we go ahead," he said. "We have to discuss everything."

Mr. Nzeimana said it was wrong of the government to go ahead with the referendum when the country's main Tutsi parties were not involved in drafting the new constitution.

The Tutsi parties argue that the constitution, finalized recently by mostly Hutu political parties and politicians, does not guarantee that Tutsis would continue to adequately exercise political power in the country.

Mr. Nzeimana says the Tutsi representatives should also come from Tutsi political parties, and not from Hutu-dominated parties.

Mr. Nzeimana said he and the other Tutsi parties agree that a referendum on the new constitution should be held, but after agreement has been reached on these issues.

Tutsis make up about 15 percent of Burundi's population, yet they dominate the army and political sphere. This imbalance was a major factor in the start of the civil war 11 years ago, which has claimed about 300,000 lives.

The power sharing agreement calls for a 50-50 split in the senate and a 60-40 split between Hutus and Tutsis in the National Assembly.

Late last week, African leaders postponed upcoming elections in Burundi, which were to follow the referendum. They said there would not be enough time to set up the necessary preparations by November 1.

The holding of elections, and the passing of a new constitution, which the summit said should be endorsed before October 25 as an interim constitution until it can be put to a national referendum, follows the requirements of a peace deal that was signed in Tanzania four years ago.

The deal created a three-year transitional government that is to hand over power to an elected government later this year.