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.
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Propsere Ntahorwamiye, spokesman of CENI, says the detractors waited too long to complain. “It’s as if the opposition parties woke up when the results were announced and said the vote had been stolen,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Convoluted balloting system
Among the difficulties in the elections here is a convoluted balloting system. In fact, there is no one ballot: Each party has its own slip.
Voters put the party slip of their preferred candidate into a white envelope; they put the slips of those they are voting against into a black envelope. Get the envelopes mixed up, or drop the wrong envelope in the wrong box, and the ballot is nullified.
Voters will only get one ballot this time around. If they support the president, the ballot goes in the white envelope. If they don’t, it goes in the black envelope. If the president fails to win a majority – “fifty percent plus one” – the rules call for a second round of balloting.
Effectively, it “transform[s] this into sort of an ad hoc referendum on the president,” says Weber.
The balloting process, which Weber calls a recent change, may also undermine the opposition’s strategy. The parties hoped their anti-elections campaign would lower turnout and illustrate the president’s dearth of support.
Alexis Sinduhije, a well-known former journalist and now ex-presidential candidate, says the approach may still demonstrate something significant. “If we have less people voting, it’s going to confirm that they want fair elections, that they want competition,” he says.
“The best scenario for us is if under 1 million people vote. We’ll be energized for parliamentary elections,” Mr. Sinduhije adds, hinting that at least his Movement for Social Democracy party may rejoin the process for next month’s vote. “If there’s more than 2 million – the game will be over.”
Is it democracy when there is only one candidate?
Either way, some Burundians say, the excitement has worn off. “I won’t vote on election day,” says one woman in Bujumbura, who cast a vote for the MSD in May. “I was excited to vote before, but not now.” Like many here, she refused to be quoted by name, citing increasing security concerns.
Renaud Dewit, spokesperson for the EU observation mission, says the mission will “wait and see” if the parties rejoin the next two elections, in July and September before assessing whether to pull the mission rather than document a series of one-party races.
As of Monday, not even the ruling party had registered a candidate; the deadline, originally today, has been extended by CENI until Friday.
Weber says the political crisis undermines the country’s recent progress. Burundi had a reputation, she says, “as an emerging democracy.”
“It is important for the peace process that democracy in Burundi would find its way,” Weber says, “and democracy without party pluralism is difficult actually to conceive.”
This article was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
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