President Pierre Nkurunziza’s eyes are firmly set on a third term despite opposition from political parties, civil society organisations, the powerful Catholic Church and despite the rejection last March by the National Assembly of changes to the constitution which would have allowed him to extend his stay in power. Also included in the constitutional reform will be a law on the delicate issues of land and properties and power sharing between the two main ethnic groups, Hutus and Tutsis.
The current constitution allows only two presidential terms and some laws are passed with a two-third or four-fifth majority vote. Only a simple majority that President Nkurunziza hope to garner in the forthcoming elections will be needed to pass laws, including extending further his rule.
A Belgian expert, Stef Vandeginste, who analysed the draft law on constitutional reform in Burundi says, if Nkurunziza’s wishes were accepted, the country would have a new constitution to replace the one based on the Arusha agreement between Hutus and Tutsis and the president could go his way up to 2025 since his first term would be in 2015.
‘For a third term, I will stop at nothing’ the headline of an opposition website published on 3 February 2014 summarised Nkurunziza’s plan. President Nkurunziza told the Paris-based magazine Jeune Afrique that he would stand again if his party asked for it. But, analysts fear that if the president gets his way, dictatorship will take the place of democracy and there is a risk of a ‘blood bath’. As one analyst said ‘only the international community stands today between Nkurunziza and a third term’. There are already rumours of tension in the army.
The international community financed the Arusha talks and signed the agreement as guarantors. The Burundian economy with a record unemployment and the lowest economic growth rate cannot survive without western financial support.
Crushing internal, external dissent
Nkurunzizaís government has split all opposition parties which could stand up to him such as the National Liberation Front, Front for Democracy in Burundi and lately the former ruling Union for National Progress party. The ministry of interior which is in charge of regulating parties sacked the partyís leader and replaced him its own choice. The president also sacked the first vice-president from Uprona, Bernard Busokoza, and replaced him with the more obedient former Mwaro provincial governor, Prosper Bazombanza.
The only politician who could easily edge out President Nkurunziza, FNL’s Agathon Rwasa, has lost his partyís leadership to a pro-government opponent, Jacques Bigirimana. The government has also introduced a law which does not allow non-degree holder such as Agathon Rwasa, to vie for a presidential position. Frodebu is today split in two and only the pro-government group is represented in the government and parliament.
The ruling CNDD-FDD party is also divided over the issue of a third presidential term. However, nobody can dare raise a voice fearing victimisation. The former leader of the CNDD-FDD, Radjabu Hussein has been in jail since 2007 for disagreeing with President Nkurunziza on party matters. Twenty-two CNDD-FDD deputies most of whom were his supporters were expelled from the parliament in 2008. Since then, President Nkurunziza has no opposition within the party. Some CNDD-FDD members hoped that the end of Nkurunzizaís end of term would give them an opportunity to run for the presidency, including Second Vice-President Gervais Rufyikiri, no one would want to be seen as opposing the president.
Nkurunziza’s name is the latest on the list of African leaders who have in recent days shown signs of reluctance to retire after the expiry of their terms. They include Ugandaís Yoweri Museveni, South Sudanís Salva Kiir and DRCongoís Joseph Kabila.
The Burundian government has called on the UN Integrated Office in Burundi, BINUB, which was created by the UN Security Council to support the Burundian government in establishing long-term peace and stability. His government argues that there is peace and unity among ethnic groups in the country, an assertion which proved wrong when sacked Uprona leaders sought asylum in a western country’s embassy that many believe was that of the USA. The opposition called for the office to remain open until after the elections. It says that tension is rising as polls get closer. As a middle ground, the UN has decided to extend BINUBís term up to December 2014.
UN, Catholic Bishops concerned
The powerful Burundi Catholic Church also added its voice to those opposed to the amendment of the constitution. In a communiquÈ released on 6 December 2013, the Burundi Conference of Bishops warned that ‘the Constitution that governs our Nation is an outcome of the Arusha Accords which are known to have been the result of long and arduous negotiations between politicians, under international mediators’ facilitation’ and that ‘a constitution that would be adopted without dialogue or consensus would undermine our peace and reconciliation process’.
Noting that the current constitution provided solution to issues such as ‘the monopolization of power by one group, the exclusion of others based on political parties or ethnic groupings, the respect for political terms’ which are ‘far from being completely resolved,’ The bishops recommended only the improvement of the electoral law and the law on the East African Community.
Diplomats from the EU, Germany, France, Holland and Belgium also on 3 February went to see the minister of foreign affairs over the sacking of the vice-president and the reforms on the issues of land and properties among others.
The absence of foreign diplomats, except BINUB’s head, and representatives of the Catholic Church at the inauguration of the new vice-president at the National Assembly, was interpreted by local analysts as refusal to rubber-stamp the government’s actions.
The ruling CNDD-FDD party is determined to find another way to change the constitution despite losing in National Assembly by only one vote. Reacting to the setback, the minister of interior said that the government would organise referendum on the same changes. However, legal experts and opposition officials rejected this saying that the president had only a choice between a vote in parliament and a referendum and that the current constitution will stay in place.
Last 3 April a confidential report from United Nation came out with allegations of weapons distributed to the ruling CNDD-youth wing, the Imbonerakure. ‘The youth wing of the CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy) has been militarized for quite some time: this is a fact. Undoubtedly the circulation of weapons under the table is a further sign that the situation is deteriorating ahead of the 2015 elections’, said a Southworld Magazine source contacted in Bujumbura.
Another cause for concern is ‘the alleged existence of lists consigned to youths of the party with names of top opposition figures to eliminate, as also figures close to the former FNL (National Liberation Forces) rebels, in both the capital and Bujumbura Rural province’, reveals the source. The tutsi minority, represented by the UPRONA (Union for National Progress), has for now opted for a low profile, after a partial political defeat in the past weeks, though concerns are mounting over their possible rearming’.
Observers and analysts suspect that the ‘orchestrated’ deterioration of the security situation is part of a political-electoral strategy ahead of next yearís vote. A strategy conducted in a context of instability, which threatens the 2003 and 2005 peace accords, after a civil war between Hutu rebels and the army dominated by the Tutsi minority that in over a decade left 250, 000 dead. ‘President Pierre Nkurunziza could use the renewed instability to present himself as the only true guarantor of peace, while an eventual rival could not give the same reassurances’, concluded the Southworld Magazine source.