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Burundi Holds Presidential Election Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

A woman walks to the polling booth to cast her vote in the presidential election, in Giheta, Gitega province, Burundi, May 20, 2020.

More than five million eligible voters in the east African nation of Burundi are heading to the polls Wednesday to choose a successor to longtime President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Nkurunziza is stepping down after 15 years in office, the last five marked by violent upheaval after his disputed bid for a third term forced over 300,000 Burundians to flee the impoverished country. A U.N. investigation determined that hundreds of people killed during the unrest were targeted by government forces, a charge Burundi has denied.

Seven candidates are running for the chance to succeed Nkurunziza, including former General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the president’s handpicked successor, and main opposition leader Agathon Rwasa.

Wednesday’s vote is also being conducted amid an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Burundi, which has had only 42 confirmed cases and one confirmed death among an estimated 11 million citizens.

Burundi's leadership has largely ignored the threat of the coronavirus, allowing large political rallies leading up to the vote and imposing no restrictions on people’s movement. The national head of the World Health Organization was expelled last week after expressing concerns over the government’s perceived indifference to the threat of the virus.

No international election monitors are in Burundi to oversee the vote after the government said any foreigners would face a 14-day quarantine.