Burundians went to the polls on Monday to re-elect incumbent head of state Pierre Nkurunziza, who was the only candidate to run for president in the elections following the withdrawal, in early June, of six opposition candidates. The six insist that the authorities rigged last May’s Municipal elections.
Some 3.5 million Burundian voters went to the polls Monday to elect a new president. And Pierre Nkurunziza, the outgoing president and head of Conseil des Nations pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces de Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) for the past 5 years, was the lone presidential runner after all six opposition candidates withdrew from the democratic exercise, early June, while accusing the Burundian authorities of fraud during the May 24 Municipal elections.
The opposition complained of serious misconduct on the part of the Independent Electoral Commission (Ceni) and called for its exclusion, as well as a new round of municipal elections. Since then, the opposition has systematically boycotted all electoral exercises.
Stifling tensions between the opposition and the ruling government was expressed in a series of grenade attacks that resulted in 8 deaths and left some 60 people wounded, a few days ahead of the election. The government directly blames the opposition as having orchestrated the violent attacks, which were accompanied by leaflets urging people to boycott the election.
Saturday night, six officials from the opposition party Mouvement pour la solidarité et le développement (MSD), including its Secretary General, Odette Ntahiraja, were arrested by Burundian authorities. They have been accused of trying to disturb the voting process.
But according to MSD president, Alexis Sinduhije, “These people have been arrested without any incriminating evidence”. Alain Guillaume Buyon, Minister of Public Safety, on the other hand, is seeking to restore confidence. “The situation is under control. The army and police are jointly providing security,” he said.
The police are believed to have identified some dozen grenade attacks, without any casualties, some hours before the election. And according to sources, the attacks scared and prevented a great number of potential voters from taking part in the polls. “In previous elections we had very long queues of people,” said Floribet Nizigimana, Nabagera polling station chief in the district of Cibitoke, quoted by the Associated Press. “Today, it looks like people are afraid,” he said.
Burundi, a Hutu-majority state (85% of the population), has witnessed violent inter-ethnic massacres since 1962, when it became independent. And many hope that Monday’s voting exercise would guarantee a permanent return to peace. The last civil war in Burundi lasted between 1993 and 2005.