A Burundian panel tasked with finding ways to resolve the nation's political and security crisis says it will soon present its findings to parliament, which will include a proposal to remove term limits for the head of state from the constitution.
Analysts say debate on the removal of term limits is likely to begin after the Inter-Burundi Dialogue Commission makes its presentation to lawmakers. President Pierre Nkurunziza is expected to make the final decision on the commission’s report after parliament approves it.
Local media quoted Justin Nzoyisaba, chairman of the commission, as saying views his group collected demonstrated that citizens want the term limits provision pulled from the constitution. Such a move would mean "that the president can go for as many terms as he wants if elected by the people," he said.
Presidents are now constitutionally limited to serving two full terms. Opposition groups say Nkurunziza is to blame for the country’s crisis for seeking a third successive term in office. The government rejects the accusations.
No surprise seen in findings
Vital Nshirimana, head of Burundi's Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society, said the dialogue commission — a 15-member group with representatives from religious groups, civil society organizations and political parties — was established for the government and did its work for the government, and that its findings were expected.
He said the commission was established after more than 200,000 Burundians fleeing the security and political crisis were forced into neighboring countries, including Rwanda and Tanzania. Those who fled included opposition and civil society leaders who were opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term, Nshirimana said.
He said the commission’s report sharply contradicted the will of the people.
The commission "has completed its assignment by Nkurunziza to kind of get to say that the people of Burundi want the revision of the constitution, or the amendment of the constitution, and to repeal the Arusha peace agreement core provision. So this is what the commission did, and this is what it was assigned to do,” Nshirimana said.
The Arusha agreement ended the country’s civil war and created an ethnic power-sharing agreement between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority.
“People do not want the review of the constitution or the cancellation of the Arusha accord, because they know the importance of the Arusha agreement, which is the most important element of the stability of Burundi for the 10 past years," Nshirimana said. "So this was a fake undertaking that was [done] by Nkurunziza, when he saw that other stakeholders had fled the country. So this is not the picture that people want. This is not the picture that the sponsors of the Arusha agreement want.
“Because now what is [needed is] an external inter-Burundian dialogue that is likely to happen in the future months if the government comes to the table of negotiations,” Nshirimana added.
Pressure from other nations
He also called on the international community to put pressure the government in Bujumbura not to undermine the constitution and the Arusha accord. Nshirimana warned that the administration risked worsening the country’s peace, stability and territorial integrity if moved ahead with plans to scrap term limits.
But the government has often said it accepts the will of the people. Officials reject assertions that the country is unstable.
“It is a matter for the Burundians to preserve the Arusha peace agreement and the constitution, because if the parliament agrees that this report be taken as an element of which it can adopt as law, then it would agree that Nkurunziza be a dictator or be a king of Burundi or be the president of Burundi forever," Nshirimana said.
"So we appeal [to] the international community, especially the East African community, with which the responsibility of finding a solution to the Burundian crisis lies, to actually stop these processes.”