Burundi to hold presidential election this week

Picture of Evariste Ndayishimiye
Burundi presidential candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye

Burundi will hold its first competitive presidential election this week since a civil war erupted in 1993.

However, simmering political violence and fears that campaign rallies could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus have already marred campaigning.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has faced accusations of political repression at home and abroad, is stepping down after 15 years in office, although the former rebel leader is set to remain a prominent force in the East African nation.

He has nominated retired army general Evariste Ndayishimiye as candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party, which staged a final rally on Saturday with thousands of people dancing to music, chanting slogans of support and waving flags.

“We will swallow our dark past which does not deserve to be our prison,” Ndayishimiye told the cheering crowd, promising “to do everything possible to end all the causes of conflicts” in Burundi.

About 300,000 people were killed during the 12-year civil war that ended in 2005.

Six other candidates are running in Wednesday’s election, including opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, who is deputy chairman of the national assembly and leader of the CNL party.

Opponents boycotted the 2015 poll, accusing the government of election abuses and rights violations, charges it denied.

“The ruling party and the government is trying to show that this is a legitimate process,” said Nelleke van de Walle from the International Crisis Group, adding that Rwasa had been able to open offices and hold large rallies around Burundi.

But Burundi has said most election observers would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Journalists say they face constant threat of arrest or attack, and many have fled the country, while some civil society organisations have been closed.