Thursday, July 23, 2015

Burundi: 7 things you need to know to understand the elections

Burundi closed the polls in its controversial presidential elections Tuesday night amidst unrest throughout the country and the US criticism that the elections lack credibility.

Here's what you need to know about the elections:

1. Current President Pierre Nkurunziza is running for a third term. The Burundi constitution only permits two presidential terms.
The nation's constitutional court ruled that Mr. Nkurunziza is eligible because he was not elected for his first term, but rather appointed by legislators.

2. Nkurunziza took office 10 years ago after 12 years of violent civil war.
Nkurunziza was a rebel leader during this civil war. There has been frequent conflict in Burundi between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, since the country gained its independence from Belgium in 1962. Nkurunziza asserts that he needs a third term to maintain the non-violence the country has experienced under his leadership.

3. There has been opposition to the election in Burundi and abroad.
The US State Department said the elections "lack credibility." United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon asked the government to "to refrain from any acts of violence that could compromise the stability of Burundi and the region." The European Union reduced some aid to the country as a punitive measure. In an unprecedented decision, the African Union did not send observers to the elections.

At home, there have been violent protests since Nkurunziza announced his candidacy in April. Large portions of the Burundian population are refusing to vote. Four of the major rival candidates are boycotting the election, though their names have been kept on the ballot. On Tuesday, two police officers were killed in the capital, Bujumbura, before polls opened. An opposition leader was found dead in a ditch nearby.

4. In May, a Burundi general tried to stage a coup to oust President Nkurunziza while he was out of the country.
The coup was blocked by loyalist troops and was unsuccessful. Coup leaders have gone into hiding, though they are still vocal in their opposition.

5. Independent media has been shut down.
The New York Times reported the government refused a request to reopen an independent radio station during a meeting with Western officials on Monday.

6. Thousands of people are fleeing Burundi amidst fears of more violence.
Dozens of civilians have been killed by police since April, and there are fears that ethnic violence will surge. According to Doctors Without Borders, as many as 1,000 people are fleeing into Tanzania daily, often on foot. "In the last two weeks, the number of people streaming across the border from Burundi has almost tripled. We can only expect that number to increase." The organization said in a statement.

7. Election results are expected to be announced Thursday.

Credit: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

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