A delay in the distribution of ballot papers has forced Burundi to push back its municipal elections. The vote, originally scheduled for Friday, May 21, will begin a summer-long series of polls in the central African nation.
Late Thursday, the electoral commission of Burundi announced it would move the polls to Sunday. The move was made in order to resolve logistical difficulties.
According to the government, a significant number of polling stations had yet to receive ballot papers. The forms were printed by independent authorities in South Africa, but the government did not specify whether the forms had reached Burundi.
In a twist of events, the polls were again delayed on Friday afternoon. Electoral officials rescheduled the elections for Monday, May 24. The Associated Foreign Press has reported the second delay was the result of protests by religious leaders against a Sunday vote.
The delay will likely further strain the already tense central African nation. Burundi has seen a marked rise in violence between the ruling National Council for Defense of Democracy and the National Liberation Forces party, its main opposition, during the months leading up to the election.
International organizations, such as the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, have expressed concern about the possibility of violence during the election. But the Deputy Chief Observer for Election Observation Mission of the European Union, Tomaso Caprioglio, says it is too early to know how the delay will affect the poll.
"I think it is better to wait, because it is not really easy to understand the present situation. We have some information coming from the field. For the moment all is clear, all is peaceful. It was news coming yesterday night at 8:40, 9:00 in the night, so I prefer to wait for the evolution of the thing," said Caprioglio.
Despite government assurance, opposition groups have already cried foul. The National Liberation Forces party has accused the electoral commission of distributing ballot papers for the ruling party, while dragging its feet on tickets for the opposition. The party says it will not withdraw from the ballot, but indicated the delay has raised questions about the transparency of the poll.
It is likely these questions will be repeatedly raised in the next few months. The municipal elections are the first in a series of votes scheduled to run until early September. The country will hold a presidential election on June 28, followed by two legislative elections in July and village polls on September 7.