Burundi votes amid opposition boycott

2010-07-23 10:08

Burundians voted in parliamentary polls today, the latest instalment in a chaotic electoral marathon which has been boycotted by the opposition and brought the country back to the brink.

Certain victory for President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ruling party and the fear of violence, whether motivated by the political crisis or the attacks Somalia’s al-Shebab militants have promised, appeared to guarantee a limited voter turnout.

Army spokesperson Gaspard Baratuza said: “After the attacks in Uganda, security measures have been reinforced across the country.”

In what Ugandans are calling 7/11, Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab group claimed responsibility for the July 11 suicide blasts that ripped through crowds watching the World Cup final, killing 76 people in Kampala.

Al-Shebab have said the bombings were in retaliation for Uganda’s role in the African Union force that has thwarted their advance in Mogadishu and warned Burundi, which also has troops in Somalia, it could be the next target.

Police patrols have intensified in recent days in Bujumbura and the main beach on Lake Tanganyika was closed to the public.

Baratuza said: “For the moment, no disruption was reported. Voters are going to polling stations quietly. The system is generally the same as for the previous votes.”

Polls close at 4pm local time today.

In May, official local election results gave Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party a comfortable edge, prompting the opposition to cry foul, alleging rigging by the regime and bias from the electoral commission.

All the main opposition groups then boycotted the June presidential election, which Nkurunziza won with more than 90% of the vote.

Former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa, who had been regarded as his main rival, went into hiding and later explained in an audio message that he feared for his life after claiming the polls were fixed.

The central African state had hoped the polls would prove its democratic credentials and consolidate a fledgling peace deal but they have instead left the political landscape in ruins and heightened fears of renewed civil strife.

A Western diplomat here said: “The electoral process in Burundi has been completely derailed and this country is ending up under the control of a party with authoritarian tendencies.”

The international community had largely endorsed the results of the May local polls despite the fraud claims and urged the opposition to end their boycott and return to the fray for the presidential vote.

But the country has since witnessed a wave of grenade attacks and sporadic violence which the regime has blamed on opposition movements.

More than 100 opposition supporters and officials were arrested in recent weeks and a spokesperson for the opposition had warned that their release was a prerequisite for the end of the boycott.

The crisis has raised fears that Burundi was slipping back towards the civil war that tore the country apart between 1993 and 2006, killing 300 000 people.

Rwasa’s National Liberation Forces were the country’s last active rebel group until they laid down their arms last year, but Burundian police said yesterday it had uncovered an arms cache and arrested a dealer who was planning to supply a Tutsi rebel group near the Congolese border.

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