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Burundi Opposition Welcomes Parliamentary Vote Delay

  • James Butty

Demonstrators climb on a container they moved to use as a barricade in the Cibitoke neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, May 19, 2015.

Demonstrators climb on a container they moved to use as a barricade in the Cibitoke neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, May 19, 2015.

Burundi’s opposition parties and civil society groups said they welcome Wednesday’s announcement by the electoral commission to postpone Friday’s parliamentary election. They maintain that President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contentious decision to seek a third term, which has sparked weeks of violent protests, is non-negotiable.

Leaders of the East Africa Community have asked Bujumbura to postpone the elections. A spokesman for Nkurunziza said Wednesday the electoral commission is considering a new timetable.

Innocent Muhozi, general manager of the independent Renaissance radio television network, said the third term bid is one of many issues the opposition and organizers of the protests want to highlight during the next round of talks.

The opposition has agreed to resume the dialogue with the government.

“Most of the people on the ground – the opposition and protesters – are happy with that, even if they didn’t talk about the question of term mandate and many other questions. But, as the communique said, it’s possible that this postponement will help to deal with all the other questions that are on the table now,” he said.

Muhozi said the international community must understand that the demonstrations taking place daily in Burundi are not just about Nkurunziza’s controversial third term bid, but rather a combination of issues that he said are destroying the fabric of the society.

“Nkurunziza is just a symbol of our system that has been killing people, torturing people, almost destroying the economy of the country. So, when the people are fighting against this term mandate, mostly it’s much about the way the system has worked during the last ten years than specifically against Mr. Nkurunziza himself,” Muhozi said.

He said Nkurunziza’s third term bid is one of many issues the opposition and organizers of the protests want to highlight during the next round of talks.

“The basic human rights, the right to protest peacefully, the right to have access to information. As you know, the independent media has been destroyed and today the owners cannot access their own places of work, this question of extrajudicial executions, political leaders in exile, the brutality of the security services. So, there are many questions that will be for sure on the table, including about the militia,” he said.

The opposition has been complaining about what it calls the “militarization of the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth wing,” known as Imbonerakure, and accused the government of supporting the violence.

East African leaders at an emergency summit Sunday on the Burundi crisis called on all parties to disarm all youth groups and stop the violence to create "conditions for the return of refugees.”

As for a new election timetable, Muhozi said the electoral commission is no longer a legally constituted entity given that some of its members of have either resigned or fled the country.

“It’s not anymore legally constituted because there were supposed to be five persons on this commission, and the way they have to take decisions is supposed to be three on (out of) four, but today it cannot work anymore. So, the first question to be addressed is to rebuild another independent electoral commission,” he said.

Muhozi said the electoral commission has not indicated whether the presidential election scheduled for June 26th was still on track or would also be postponed. He said the commission has probably left that decision to Nkurunziza, perhaps in the form of a decree.

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