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Concerns of violence as Burundi’s president weighs third term


President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

POLITICAL storm clouds have been gathering over Burundi, with worries the president’s ambitions for a constitutionally-questionable third term in office could reignite violence in a country still regaining its footing after years of civil war.

President Pierre Nkurunziza has faced revolt from within his own party over his presumed candidacy for the June election. Seventy-nine members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party wrote the president last week asking him not to seek office.

The influential Catholic Church in Burundi also has joined the growing chorus of civil society and opposition groups urging Mr. Nkurunziza not to run.

While the party has yet to name a candidate, the president has offered no signal he will step aside.

“You have a very wide coalition of the opponents to the third mandate,” says Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Director for the International Crisis Group, “and President Nkurunziza and his entourage seem to be a bit isolated.”

Nkurunziza’s eligibility comes down to a legal argument over the wording of a formative peace agreement and the country’s constitution.

Burundi’s existing political structures were founded on the 2000 Arusha agreement which brought to an end the civil war between Hutu and Tutsi factions that killed up to 300,000 people.

That agreement says the president can serve no more than two terms in office.

But the 2005 constitution states the president must be elected through “universal direct suffrage” – interpreted to mean a popular vote. Nkurunziza was elected by parliament to his first term, so, his supporters argue, he is eligible to run again.

Whether he does so or not, Nkuruniziza’s government has been under fire from rights groups and the international community for boxing out the opposition and silencing voices of dissent.

Vircoulon says the political tension in the lead-up to the election “is the conclusion of the five years of the second mandate of President Nkurunziza, that has been characterized by political intolerance and repression.”

Rights groups have accused the ruling party of arming its youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, and using them to attack opponents in the past.

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