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Burundi - 2020 Elections - President and Parliament

Burundi is slated to hold a pair of elections in 2020 - for President on 20 May 2020, and the Parliament on 20 July 2020. The Republic of Burundi is a multi-party constitutional republic with an elected government. Enacted in June following a referendum held in May, the 2018 Constitution establishes an executive power headed by the president, a bicameral legislative power and an independent judiciary. In 2015, re-elected President Pierre Nkurunziza and the new members of the National Assembly (lower house) during a boycotted electoral process by virtually all independent opposition parties, which considered that the Nkurunziza's re-election was a violation of the existing provisions limiting the number of presidential terms.

International observers and national governments found that the elections were largely peaceful, but that they were deeply tainted by irregularities, that they were not free or fair and lacked transparency and credibility. There have been reports of harassment and intimidation, threatening statements and a few episodes of violence in the period leading up to the referendum. Burundi has a bicameral Parliament (Parlement) consisting of the Senate with 54 seats and the National Assembly (Assemblee National) with 100 seats.

Burundi remains one of the world's poorest countries. It relies mostly on coffee exports and is heavily dependent on foreign aid to meet government expenditure. Some of that assistance was slashed following the political violence. The country of 11 million people consists of 14% Tutsis whereas the rest are mostly Hutus. Ethnic tensions have plagued Burundi ever since it attained independence in 1962.

Burundi's president Pierre Nkurunziza vowed 07 June 2018 to step down when his term ends in 2020. Many had expected him to stand for two more terms, following recent changes to the constitution. In power since 2005, Nkurunziza would have been able to rule until 2034. Nkurunziza's government has been criticized by rights groups for using excessive force and extra-judicial killings. Nkurunziza's 15 years in office has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses and muzzling of the press as well as the stifling of critics and opposition.

Burundi's ruling CNDD-FDD party on 26 January 2020 chose an army general, Evariste Ndayishimiye, as its candidate for the presidential election scheduled to take place on 20 May 2020. "The CNDD-FDD party will always be our parent, we will always remember that even if we grow up, we will never be superior to our parents," Ndayishimiye said, in an apparent pledge to be loyal to the outgoing president, Pierre Nkurunziza. "We'll always respect leaders of our party because a child can never compare himself to his parents."

The announcement signaled the coming to an end of President Pierre Nkurunziza's three terms in office. His controversial third term triggered political violence that led to the killing of at least 1,200 people and forced around 400,000 others to flee their homes to neighboring countries. During the CNDD-FDD's three-day conference in Gitega, a rural province in Burundi, Nkurunziza proudly told party members that he is leaving behind a country on the democratic path. "We [the CNDD-FDD government] have achieved a lot, God is our witness." As part of his presidential retirement package, 55-year-old Nkurunziza will receive $530,000 (€480,000) and a luxury villa. He will also receive a salary for the rest of his life.

As the ruling party's secretary-general and close ally of President Nkurunziza, General Evariste Ndayishimiye is one of Burundi's most influential politicians. He previously served as minister of interior and security, and was once chief of the president's military and civilian cabinet. The 52-year-old joined Nkurunziza's rebel movement in the 1990s against the ruling Tutsi government. Ndayishimiye was a key signatory of the 2003 Arusha accord, which ended the war and ushered in Nkurunziza as new president of Burundi. By that time, 300,000 people had lost their lives in the conflict.

Ndayishimiye has not always agreed with Nkurunziza. He initially opposed the president's third term bid but later changed his mind. Having ruled Burundi with an iron fist for 15 years, many observers said Nkurunziza's influence will still linger for a while after the May 20 election.

Charles Nditije, a former minister who is now member of the UPRONA opposition party said "He will still be working in the background, trying to protect his family and fortunes." Nditije dismissed the upcoming polls saying: "There will never be free and fair or credible election." He has called on all Burundian opposition parties to boycott the 2020 election as some did during the 2015 and 2010 elections. "The coming election is meant to give legitimacy to the new president," Nditije said.

Burundi’s opposition leader Agathon Rwasa claimed an early victory 21 May 2020 in the country’s first presidential election in five years. Longtime president Pierre Nkurunziza decided not to run again, giving voters a choice between his hand-picked would-be successor – Secretary-General Evariste Ndayishimiye – Rwasa and five others. Voters were also choosing a national legislature and local leaders. The voting on 20 May 2020 was generally trouble-free – compared with the 2015 vote, when election-related violence killed about 1,200 people – although some observers noted that few voters waiting in lines to cast their ballots were heeding calls for social distancing because of the coronavirus.

The National Independent Electoral Commission was telling people to be patient, saying official results will not be ready until at least Monday. Ballots from 3,800 polling places need to be collected, taken to local election headquarters and counted. But Rwasa told VOA’s Central African service that polling officers from his National Council for Liberty (CNL) party said he is winning. “The trend is that CNL is leading in presidential, parliamentary and even in communal elections in general,” Rwasa said. But commission chairman Pierre-Claver Kazihise said “the intermediate figures from polling stations do not show anything. It is the official results declared after the count at the commune level that must be communicated to the people.

Evariste Ndayishimiye — Burundi's ruling party presidential candidate — was declared the winner of the country's bitterly disputed election, with 68.72% of the vote. The election commission said that Ndayishimiye's main rival, Agathon Rwasa of the National Freedom Council (CNL), scored 24.19% of the vote which saw 87.7% voter turnout. "We will swallow our dark past which does not deserve to be our prison," Evariste Ndayishimiye said at a presidential campaign rally outside the capital, Bujumbura, during the election campaign. He assured his supporters that he would do everything possible to address the causes of conflict that have engulfed this central African nation. A former army general, Ndayishimiye has been secretary of the ruling CNDD-FDD party since 2016. Before becoming president, he was head of the Military Affairs Department under former President Pierre Nkurunziza. Ndayishimiye also served as interior minister from 2006 to 2007.

Popularly known by his nickname "Neva," Ndayishimiye spent much of his career in the military before joining politics. He was a young student at the University of Burundi when the civil war started in 1993, and barely managed to escape when a Tutsi militia group attacked the law campus and killed dozens of students. The civil war, which lasted 13 years, took the lives of 300,000 people. As the war raged on, Ndayishimiye, who had joined the Hutu militia, gradually rose through the ranks of the CNDD-FDD. The party later rewarded him in 2003 by appointing him the main negotiator in cease-fire talks that ended the conflict in 2006.

Unlike Nkurunziza, who many observers view as cold-blooded, Ndayishimiye has not been linked with the recent abuses carried out by the CNDD-FDD on its perceived critics. However, he did not intervene to quell the violence that gripped Burundi following the 2015 controversial election.

On 4 June, the Constitutional Court officially declared Evariste Ndayishimiye, candidate of the ruling party CNDD-FDD (Conseil National de Défense de la Démocratie - Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie), the President-elect of the Republic with over 68% of the votes, thus confirming the provisional results announced by CENI on 25 May. The CNDD-FDD candidates to legislative and communal elections largely won in all the provinces and communes. However, the death of President Nkurunziza disrupted the electoral calendar since, as per the decision of the Constitutional Court on 12 June, the President elect was sworn in on 18 June 2020 instead of 20 August as initially scheduled.

The relatively strong participation of women in the electoral process, including the number of elected female candidates, came despite being discriminated against and in spite of several material and cultural challenges linked to the negative views against women’s engagement in politics. This result was made possible by the gender quota prescribed by law and by the blocked lists and the co-opting mechanisms. The Commission hopes that similar measures will be put in place during the elections at the sub-local (colline) level, even in the absence of a legally prescribed gender quota.

The electoral process for the Senate and colline elections, respectively scheduled for 23 July and 24 August – was characterised by political intolerance and marred by violent incidents and multiple human rights violations. These occurred before, during and after the official electoral campaign, on voting day and, to a lesser extent, after the announcement of the official elections results. The Commission was able to document several cases of violation of the right to life, the right to liberty and security, the right to physical integrity, the right to participate in public affairs which includes the right to vote freely and secretly and the right to be a candidate, as well as the fundamental civil liberties, in particular freedoms of association and assembly and freedoms of opinion and expression. These violations directly affected mostly men, but also women, candidates or simple members of opposition parties.

Since the accreditation of the party Congrès National pour la Liberté (CNL) of Agathon Rwasa on 14 February 2019, which quickly became the main opposition party, its members and leaders faced acts of intimidation, threats and serious human rights violations. These acts were mainly committed by Imbonerakure and local administrative authorities; usually acting with the support of the police or agents of the national intelligence service (SNR). As elections approached, cases of serious violations increased. The electoral campaign launched on 27 April 2020 was the scene of numerous arrests and arbitrary detentions of CNL members, especially targeting the party leaders at the local level, candidates at the local elections and even those at the legislative elections, as well as designated elections observers of the said party (Mandataires) tasked with observing the voting process and the tallying of votes. Several executions of CNL members were also recorded during this same period.

The electoral campaign was punctuated by incidents, namely clashes between members of the ruling party and opposition party members; resulting in injuries and even some casualties. CNL was not always able to carry out its campaigning activities, such as the inauguration of party headquarters, some of which were forbidden by local authorities. Some of its electoral meetings were disrupted by Imbonerakure and the population was, in some cases, prevented or discouraged from attending them. Burundian authorities have themselves partly recognised these acts of violence, particularly in the case of the clashes between CNDD-FDD and CNL members during the election campaign. They nevertheless assigned the responsibility of these clashes almost exclusively to CNL members without carrying out, in most cases, any impartial investigations.

Hate and hostile speeches, particularly virulent against political opponents of CNDD-FDD - sometimes with an ethnic dimension – widely circulated on social media without being denounced, condemned or sanctioned by the authorities. In contrast, the complaint by a commune’s administrator whose local administration was criticised by a female candidate from an opposition party led to judicial proceedings for insult and malicious accusations against the female candidate.

In the run up to recent elections in Burundi, members of the Imbonerakure were instrumental in the killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, intimidation, and harassment of political opponents. The youth league of the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), terrorized the population, as it had done for many years.

The judicial system, which is still characterised by a lack of independence and impartiality, has largely been used as a tool in the electoral context and justice has become the main instrument used by authorities and CNDD-FDD to weaken and stand in the way of CNL. While most CNL members were released after a few days or weeks, some were sentenced to excessive prison terms following trials “on the spot”, mainly for attempt to « disrupt elections» or for «participation in illegal meetings», and others remain in preventive detention.

The media remain under strict control notably through the media synergy initiated by the government and journalists were not able to freely carry out their duties. Journalists were intimidated and threatened or prevented from freely covering the electoral process. As a reminder, four journalists from the Iwacu media group, one of the last independent media still operating in the country, were sentenced on 30 January 2020 to two and a half years in prison for « impossible attempt of complicity in undermining the internal security of the State» 2 when they were only fulfilling their professional duties of information gathering. On 22 October 2019, they went to Bubanza province to cover armed clashes reported on the same morning between the Burundian defence forces and members of an armed group; but they were immediately arrested and detained. Their sentencing was denounced by several independent experts from the United Nations 3. We deplore that the Ntahangwa Court of appeal confirmed this verdict on 5 June 2020.

During the electoral campaign period, some children have been prevented to attend school and were instead forced by their teachers or school principals to participate in political rallies organised in favour of the ruling party or its candidate to the presidential election, Evariste Ndayishimiye.

From a general perspective, despite these numerous and concerning violations, it does not seem that there was massive violence. The appeals to the international community to remain vigilant, had an impact. Several calls to exercise restraint were addressed to all political parties in Burundi by different members of the international community and they seemed to have been heeded.

It is clear that the economic underpinnings of the State are characterised by an obvious lack of transparency which raises numerous fundamental questions, specifically on governance in Burundi in general. The new President’s government was composed primarily by the old guard of the late President Nkurunziza’s regime.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2020 15:10:47 ZULU