Burundi elections are set to take place today despite the surging coronavirus pandemic, and is is expected to mark the end of authoritarian leader Pierre Nkurunziza‘s 15-year rule, though fears of post-election violence and the potential for the further spread the novel coronavirus have shrouded the democratic exercise in concern.

Burundi Elections
Burundi Elections

While Ethiopia chose to postpone its elections as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Burundi elections has been pushed ahead and will happen, with social distancing rules observed. Lawmakers and local officials are to be elected.

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The Burundi elections comes as a population of an estimated 11 million people have not had any restrictions on their movement unlike in neighbouring countries.

The two main candidates for Wednesday’s contest are the secretary general of Nkurunziza’s ruling party, Evariste Ndayishimiye, and a perennial opposition figure, Agathon Rwasa.

Nkurunziza, Ndayishimiye and Rwasa were all rebel leaders during the civil war from 1993 to 2005 and come from the Hutu majority group. Both Ndayishimiye and Rwasa have assured their supporters of victory, setting the stage for street protests in the likely event that Rwasa is not announced the winner.

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Burundi, a country of 11 million people wedged between Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s deepest lake, suffered through a 12-year civil war that mirrored some of the dynamics of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, with which it shares a similar language and ethnic makeup. Civil war, as well as subsequent crackdowns on dissent by Nkurunziza who became president when it ended, killed more than 300,000 people and caused hundreds of thousands of others to flee the country.

As seen throughout the campaign, Saturday’s final rally of the ruling CNDD-FDD party in commercial capital Bujumbura saw a heaving crowds of thousands gathered for hours, with only buckets of water and soap available as a nod to the virus.

Ndayishimiye and other officials have repeatedly insisted God is protecting the East African state from the virus, and the country has officially recorded only 42 positive cases and one death.

However doctors accuse the government of minimising the extent of the outbreak, while residents of Bujumbura have told AFP of mysterious deaths of neighbours and relatives with respiratory problems and fevers.

Clash of Hutu rebel leaders

The campaign was marked by violence and arbitrary arrests — the kind that has persisted in the shadows since the 2015 poll — and observers expect a bitter contest between the two frontrunners.

Ndayishimiye is a party veteran who like Nkurunziza, fought for the ethnic Hutu rebellion during the country’s 1993-2006 civil war with the minority Tutsi-dominated army. The war left some 300,000 dead.

Rwasa, 56, was a leader of the country’s oldest ethnic Hutu rebel movement Palipehutu-FNL, one of the two main rebel groups in the war.

In the eyes of the majority Hutu, who makes up 85 percent of the population, Rwasa has as much legitimacy as a presidential candidate as his rival.

Nkurunziza’s decision to step aside came as a surprise after constitutional changes in 2018 opened the possibility for him to stay in office until 2034.

In January this year legislators passed a law offering a golden parachute to outgoing presidents, including a luxury villa and a one-off sum equivalent to more than half a million dollars.

The retired president will also get the same benefits as a serving vice-president for seven years after he steps down, and will for the rest of his life get an allowance equal to that of a lawmaker.

The outgoing president was in February named the “supreme guide for patriotism” and he is expected to retain an influential role if the ruling party retains its power.

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The election will take place far from the eyes of the world — the government has refused any observers from the UN or the African Union, accusing the latter of being too close to the opposition

 

Nkurunziza, Ndayishimiye and Rwasa were all rebel leaders during the civil war from 1993 to 2005 and come from the Hutu majority group. Both Ndayishimiye and Rwasa have assured their supporters of victory, setting the stage for street protests in the likely event that Rwasa is not announced the winner.