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Burundi. 2015 Elections – Coalitions take shape

Party coalitions are taking shape six months to the 2015 general elections.The opposition has already formed the Democratic Alliance for Change locally known as ADC-Ikibiri which brings together most large opposition parties such as Frodebu, CNDD and MSD.

There are calls for a larger opposition coalition which should include the wing of the Union for National Progress (Uprona) led by Charles Nditije, Frodebu-Nyakuri and Agathon Rwasa’s FNL.
The opposition learned a bitter lesson after it boycotted the 2010 elections leaving leeway to the ruling National Council for Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) to acquire majority seats in the parliament and rule the country single-handedly.

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Rwasa’s FNL had won a number of parliament seats but lost everything after its withdrawal from the electoral process. It erroneously hoped that the international community would put pressure on the CNDD-FDD to agree to a repeat of the elections. Instead, the opposition handed an opportunity to the ruling party to impose its rule and change laws at will.

Splitting of opposition parties

Agathon Rwasa, the only opposition leader that could unseat President Pierre Nkurunziza, says he will stand in the presidential election “with or without a political party”. The government has split all major opposition parties in two and recognised those faction leaders it controls. Thus, there is an FNL wing which has been recognised by the ministry of interior and Rwasa’s FNL which is unregistered but is popular among the Hutu majority. Although Rwasa’s FNL cannot legally field candidates, its leader can stand as an independent candidate and get the support of other opposition parties.

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Like the FNL, the former ruling party, Uprona, has been split into a legal wing which supports the ruling party and an unrecognised wing which enjoys the support of Uprona members. “It is high time Burundians woke up for things to change. Because, if everything continues as it is, Burundi will soon cease to exist”, Frodebu-Nyakuri’s Minani told Burundian journalists. The unity call was also echoed by Uprona’s leader, Charles Nditije, saying that no single party can defeat the CNDD-FDD.
Nditije’s Uprona party rejected the boycott call in 2010 and subsequently took seats in the parliament and the government. Its move gave credibility to the polls which had been described by other opposition parties as flawed. The move was seen as betrayal by other opposition members. The government divided it when it started to oppose the idea of Nkurunziza’s third term.
Rwasa is likely to face President Nkurunziza at the ballot box. Both fight for votes from the majority Hutu ethnic group. Although President Nkurunziza should not stand again in accordance with the constitution which allows only two consecutive terms, most analysts believe, he will ignore public and international community views and stand for a third time.

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The National Assembly in March this year rejected government’s proposals to modify the constitution and allow Nkurunziza to vie for a third term. However, the president says only the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court that he controls will decide on his fate. The electoral body has been reported saying that it would not oppose Nkurunziza’s candidature. Some analysts say the president may not stand in the forthcoming elections but is destabilising the opposition so that his party can win.

Avoiding past mistakes

While the opposition is determined not to repeat past mistakes, its participation to a poll it already says won’t be free and fair could offer President Nkurunziza and his party the legitimacy they so much need. “For the ADC-Ikibiri , a decision has been taken is to prevent the ruling party from going it alone in 2015 as it happened in 2010, but it is clear that the CNDD-FDD has decided to play all kinds of tricks, including killing opposition officials and supporters”, CNDD leader Leonard Nyangoma said. “I also have to say that given the pace at which things are moving, I am very sceptical, the danger of this participation will legitimize the results”.

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Donors who traditionally finance Burundi’s elections have not yet released all the funds demanding that the government not only honours the Memorandum of Understanding reached between Burundian parties but also Nkurunziza should state his stand on a third term.
The CNDD-FDD is not taking lightly the opposition’s efforts to take control of the parliament. It has forged a coalition of nine small pro-government parties. “It’s very clear we have decided to become an opposition political coalition. But a constructive opposition, meaning an opposition that does not just denounce, denounce every time without proposing solutions. We shall encourage what is good and denounce what does not work before calling for corrections, “an official of the new coalition, Mutabazi, said on behalf of the nascent political body.

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Contrary to the 2010 polls when national and international observers were absent at most polling stations, this time Civil Society bodies and the international community will field a much higher number of observers. Burundian Civil Society organisations claimed in 2010 that they had no funds to field observers at every poll station. This time, the Coalition of Civil Society for Election Monitoring (Cosome) says it will field at least 12,000 observers to cover all polling stations. The UN observer mission will be ready by January 2015.
While the outcome of the presidential election is unknown, former President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya believes the forthcoming elections will change the face of the National Assembly. He argues that “some political parties including FNL and Uprona…could form a coalition with the Democratic Alliance for Change for the 2015 elections. This coalition will likely change the face of the 2015 parliament”. “National leaders should already get prepared”, Ntibantunganya was quoted by a local radio saying.

Charles Bigirimana

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