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Burundians Vote on Constitution

Voters in Burundi Monday went to the polls to have their say on the country's draft constitution.

According to an official with one of Burundi's Tutsi political parties, Joseph Nzeimana, Monday's voting was fraught with mistakes.

"It seems that there are many irregularities, such as going and vote[ing] two times, three times, which means that the organization is very bad. It was very quick[ly] organized, and the population was not trained," said Mr. Nzeimana.

More than three million votes were cast in Burundi on whether or not to approve of the country's draft constitution.

Mr. Nzeimana, who heads the Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development, said in many cases, voters submitted both a "yes" and "no" card, because he says they did not understand the process or were pressured to vote "yes."

Burundi's ambassador to Kenya, Stanislas Nsabuwanka, denies that there are problems with the election.

"I think that it is not possible because every elector must have only one card," he said.

Monday's referendum follows the requirements of a peace deal that was signed in Tanzania almost five years ago to end more than a decade of fighting between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.

The conflict has claimed some 300,000 lives.

The peace deal created a three-year transitional government that was supposed to hand over power to an elected government last year after the acceptance of a constitution that would, among other things, share power between Hutus and Tutsis. But the referendum had been delayed several times.

Tutsis make up around 15 percent of Burundi's population, yet they dominate the army and political sphere, an imbalance that was a major cause of the war.

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

Some Tutsi political parties such as the Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development argue that the constitution does not guarantee that Tutsis would continue to adequately exercise political power in the country.

Burundi's ambassador to Kenya Mr. Nsabuwanka says the constitution represents a consensus among Hutus and Tutsis, and those who claim that Tutsis will lose out are only trying to defend their own interests.

"Some people are not happy because they don't see if they could remain in the government, because they want the constitution to be put in their interests," explained Mr. Nsabuwanka.

Mr. Nsabuwanka said elections are supposed to be held sometime soon, although he could not say exactly when.