EDITORIAL: Burundi’s election impossible

It is evident to every observer of Burundi that the country cannot hold local and parliamentary polls on Monday amid grenade attacks, an opposition elections boycott, and defections by senior members of the ruling party CNDD-FDD.

On Thursday, June 25, second vice president Gervais Rufyikiri withdrew his support for President Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime, and fled to Belgium.

Unconfirmed reports also say President of the National Assembly Pie Ntavyohanyuma — who left for Belgium on the night of Wednesday, June 24 — may also have defected.

Opposition parties have declared an election boycott, saying they cannot participate in a poll where the electoral commission already knows who the next leaders of Burundi will be.

Meanwhile, violence continues to rock the capital, with grenade attacks killing scores of civilians, and militias attacking innocent people in the name of giving the president another term in office after already serving for 10 years.

The attempts by the president and his allies to hold an election by force in the current political environment does not bode well for the country’s fragile politics. But President Nkuruziza is determined to bludgeon his way to victory in a contest where he has only himself to defeat.

Even if he and his party do run without contest on Monday — like he did five years ago — this time round the political dynamics are quite different from what they were in 2010.

Foreign governments, as well as the EU, the AU and the EAC, have made it clear they will not send in observers to monitor the elections until the violence stops and the right conditions for free and fair elections are in place — denying Nkuruziza the legitimacy he badly needs.

Regional leaders appear to be running out of patience with the leader and key donors from Western Europe have withdrawn support for his government, whose budget is 50 per cent donor-funded.

This will only hurt ordinary Burundians and not the Bujumbura elite, whose political brinkmanship has denied the country the chance of a peaceful settlement of the crisis in the UN-led mediation.

The root of the crisis is known to all.

But the politically correct UN, the AU and EAC have refrained from directly asking the president to step down.

As a country recovering from a decade-long civil war, Nkurunziza should realise that time is running out, and that the hard work he did as president to pacify the fragile nation could be undone because of the cracks and divisions his third term bid has created within Burundi’s political elite.

The president should rise above his own self-interest, support the UN-led round table peace talks and pave the way for a transitional government that will lead Burundi to elections supported by all, both at home and abroad.

He will need to remember the ideals of his party CNDD-FDD, which was founded to restore stability, to end the country’s divisive ethnic politics and restore democratic rule.