In Burundi the Electoral Commission has announced that incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza has won Tuesday’s elections, as expected. His victory puts the country’s future at risk, says DW’s Dirke Köpp.
More than 80 people dead, countless injured, hundreds of arbitrary arrests and an atmosphere of oppression and violence which has caused more than 175,000 Burundians to flee their country. All that as a result of the controversial bid for re-election by incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza.
On Friday, the national Electoral Commission made the expected announcement that Nkurunziza had won the elections held the previous Tuesday. He received 69.4 percent of the votes cast.
It was almost three months to the day since Nkurunziza had announced his candidacy. He did so even though, under the constitution and a peace accord, his period in office should end on August 26, 2015. He defended his decision with a questionable interpretation of the constitution.
The next day saw the start of public protests against what the opposition and civil society called a “constitutional coup.” Various mediation attempts all failed, the last just two days before the election. Although the talks had included the possibility of postponing the election, the government brazenly declared that the mediation could continue after the poll. Despite a boycott by the opposition, the names of several opposition candidates still appeared on the ballot papers. All in all, a questionable exercise.
It is also strange that, despite there being only a trickle of voters at many polling stations, turnout was put at an impressive 73 percent. That’s higher than at the general elections in Germany in 2013. Those elections were not preceded by weeks of violent protests and there was no boycott by the opposition. However, they did take place within an intact and vocal media landscape – unlike in Burundi where, following a coup, all non-state media were silenced.
It is hard to verify the turnout figures as there were no international election observers. However it is clear that pressure was brought to bear on voters and an atmosphere of fear was created. This occurred not only in the president’s home province – there were pro-regime thugs and the youth militia of the ruling party everywhere, watching to see who went to vote and for whom.
Nkurunziza is leading his country into a civil war with his eyes wide open. The last civil war in Burundi claimed more than 300,000 lives. The opposition has already said it will not recognize Nkurunziza’s victory. It plans to install a parallel government. There are indications that opposition figures may also be prepared to use weapons. This is a frightening scenario.
In Ivory Coast five years ago a similar power battle over the presidency left up to 5,000 people dead within just a few weeks. Nkurunziza has to be brought to reason so that he does not put Burundian lives unnecessarily at risk. In this, China and Russia must play an active role. They are currently in the process of taking the place of European donors in Burundi, rather than working together with them to end the crisis.