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Burundi Ambassador says President's Candidacy a Constitutional Question

Burundi Ambassador says President's Candidacy is a Constitutional Question
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Preparations are underway for the June presidential elections in Burundi amid questions whether President Pierre Nkurunziza should run for a third term. While the Burundi leader has not declared his candidacy, the United States and others say he should not do so because it would violate the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords that helped end the country's civil war. But Burundi's ambassador to the United States tells VOA the election question should be decided by the constitution.

Thousands took part recently in a government-backed rally in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, as the country prepares to hold presidential elections later this year.

Whether President Pierre Nkunrunziza is going seek re-election or not, some ordinary citizens are already expressing concern, like this street vendor.

"We do not want to run anymore. We are tired of war. We want somewhere to sell our produce in peace so we can feed our families," she said.

Although President Nkurunziza has not declared his candidacy, some civil society groups say if he wins this would be an illegal third term. The confusion lies in whether his first term should count, because he was elected then by parliament, instead of by direct election under the constitution.

But U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Gilmour says regardless of what the constitution says the Arusha Peace Accords remain a vital component of the country's continued stability. The accords only allow two terms for a president.

“We hope that the presidential elections will be consistent with the Arusha Accords, including its unambiguous provision regarding executive term limits. And we believe that in the spirit of compromise, balance and power sharing that are inherent in the Arusha Accords, that that has been fundamental to Burundi's laudable progress," said Gilmour.

However, Burundi's ambassador in Washington, Ernest Ndabashinze, says the presidential election should be held according to Burundi's constitution.

“The Arusha Accords were a step in the process of resolving our problems. Today we have a constitution approved by Burundians themselves, so everything related to elections, we have all that is needed in the constitution. So a reference to the Arusha agreement is a mistake, because the Arusha agreement is not the constitution of Burundi," said Ndabashinze.

A Burundian living in the U.S., Sixte Vigny Nimuraba, says the issue is neither the constitution nor the Arusha Accords.

“We need to give power to the people so that they can be the ones to vote. The concern again here is how they will be influenced, called by the media or the ruling party or the opposition to act in a way that they may not have done," said Nimuraba.

At a recent talk on election preparations, Gilmour said Washington is committed to a stable and democratic society in Burundi. He says $13 million has been committed in that effort, but there remains cause for concern because of the arrests of journalists, some opposition party members and others who speak out against the government position.

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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office.