Burundians went to the polls Thursday to vote "yes" or "no" on proposed changes to the constitution. The changes, among other things, could pave the way for the president to stay in office for another 16 years.
Voters in Burundi trooped to polling centers to cast their ballot in Thursday’s referendum. In the voting booth, they faced one basic question, do you accept or reject the proposed changes to the 2005 constitution?
The proposals include extending the presidential mandate from five to seven years, creation of a prime minister post and giving the ruling party the power to fire an elected lawmaker found to be breaking the law and constitution.
If adopted, the changes will give current President Pierre Nkurunziza a chance to run for another two terms. Nkurunziza has ruled Burundi since 2005.
“It is important to change the constitution because there are some laws that are good, others not, but we need to change it as Burundians. I voted yes. We want change and we want to see change better than the one we have,” said businesswoman Muamini Mosi who lives in Bujumbura.
Burundi has been rocked by political violence since Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, defying critics who said he was violating the constitution and the Arusha Agreement that ended the country's civil war.
Due to the 2015 controversy, the government says there is need to change the constitution to provide a clear direction on the term limit issue.
One person who voted "no" on the changes told VOA the country needs to stick with the constitution as it is.
“I do not know what they have written, what they have changed. I am forced to vote no because I believe previous constitution and the Arusha agreement has helped us with the peace we enjoy today. I voted no in the hope we can remain with the old constitution.”
Mechanic Manirakiza Shindano says today’s vote is more of a survival for him.
“I am voting for my safety and security. As a citizen we want development we do not want violence. We want to do our work peacefully,” he said.
Human rights organizations had called for postponing the referendum, citing threats to civilians from the youth wing of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure.
The vote proceeded without much trouble in most parts of the country. But some polling stations visited by VOA lacked election monitors. Their absence may raise more questions about the legitimacy of the process.
The electoral commission has until Saturday to announce the result of Thursday’s vote.