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Burundi election lacks critical ingredient: presidential candidates

Allegations of fraud in May's local elections have brought a new wave of violence to the capital city and lurched Burundi into political crisis. Opposition parties are refusing to put forward any presidential candidates, a week before Burundi's election.

By Jina MooreCorrespondent / June 23, 2010

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza smiles during an interview with AFP journalists in Rugombo during a break in a political rally in the north part of Burundi on May 14.

Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Newscom

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Bujumbura, Burundi

Less than a week away from its first presidential vote since the last armed group laid down their guns, Burundi’s election is still missing a critical ingredient: candidates.

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Only President Pierre Nkurunziza is running in the race. But members of opposition parties are campaigning anyway – not to win the election, but to convince their fellow Burundians to boycott the vote.

“We’ll hold a campaign against elections. We won’t kill. We won’t fight. But we will ask people not to vote,” says Leonard Nyangoma, a former presidential candidate and spokesperson for a coalition of 12 opposition parties who pulled out of the race, including Agathon Rwasa. He is the former leader of a holdout rebel group called the FNL that only laid down its arms in 2009. UPRONA, the country’s second-biggest political party, also joined the boycott.

Those abstaining say the president’s party stole its May victory in local elections. The ruling CNDD-FDD won 64 percent of that vote, in which 90 percent of the country’s registered voters – more than 3 million people – cast ballots. The ruling party has roots as one of the largest rebel groups in Burundi's 10-year civil war, which ended in 2003. Party chairman Mr. Nkurunziza was elected in 2005 to a five-year term as president.

The May election itself was largely peaceful, to the surprise and relief of observers, but allegations of what Mr. Nyangoma characterizes as “massive fraud” have lurched post-conflict Burundi into political crisis – and brought a new wave of violence to the capital city.

In the past week, more than 30 grenade explosions have been reported in the capital, killing several people. Violence has also been reported in rural areas.

Many Burundians say they fear the next election day may not be as peaceful as the last one. Some are also frustrated with the political elite’s inability to solve its disagreements.

“I can’t say yes or no” to the question of whether there was fraud, says Josiane Nzengiyumva, a sales clerk in Bujumbura, “because I don’t really know what happened. What I can say is this: After that, we have a problem. So the political parties need to work together to find a solution.”

Observers: No evidence of fraud

Opposition candidates lodged complaints about the local elections in early June, including the irregularity of poll hours and the failure to protect ballot secrecy. The parties, and local civil society groups, questioned the delayed release of official results and the inaccessibility of day-of documentation from the polls.

Opposition parties have demanded dialogue, the dissolution of an independent election commission they say is biased in favor of the president, and even a repeat of the May vote. The winning CNDD-FDD has accused the opposition of being “bad losers.”

The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) and the European Union (EU) observers concede there were “irregularities” in the process, including some of those cited by opposition parties, but insist there is no proof of fraud.

Renate Weber, chief of the EU Elections Observation Mission here, says she sees no evidence that the vote was rigged. “The way things were carried out, they could not actually lead to the vote in favor of one or another party,” says Ms. Weber.

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