Burundi: Ensuring Credible Elections
Burundi: Ensuring Credible Elections
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  1. Executive Summary
Report / Africa 3 minutes

Burundi: Ensuring Credible Elections

Burundi’s escape from its long civil war can only be solidified if all political forces, including government, opposition parties, civil society and media ensure that this year’s series of elections is truly democratic. The International Crisis Group examines the rise in tensions before communal, presidential and legislative elections.

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Executive Summary

Burundi has made much progress in leaving its civil war behind, but tensions are rising ahead of elections. They could escalate dangerously in coming months, ruining the electoral process’s credibility and endangering a fragile democracy and, ultimately, many gains of the peace process. After strong international pressure was put on the ruling party, consensus was reached in September 2009 on an Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and a new electoral code. The polls – communal, presidential, then legislative – are scheduled between May and September, but opposition parties are facing harassment and intimidation from police and the ruling party’s youth wing and appear to be choosing to respond to violence with violence. Both the region and Burundi’s other partners should reinforce election violence monitoring mechanisms and support deployment of a regional police mission. A senior regional envoy should be appointed to facilitate resolution of political disputes and party leaders warned they face sanctions if they rig elections and possible international prosecution if they commit serious violent crimes.

Although an electoral framework endorsed by the majority of the political class is in place, opposition parties still cannot operate freely. In many parts of the country, local administrations are controlled by the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie – Forces de défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD). These local administrations order the police to disrupt opposition party gatherings and block them from opening local offices. At the same time, civil society organisations and some media are harassed for denouncing the ruling party’s authoritarian tendencies.

The CNDD-FDD youth wing’s physical training, war songs and quasi-military organisation raise the spectre of militia violence and a large-scale intimidation campaign. The other former rebels, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) and the Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) are mobilising their own youth wings to oppose intimidation tactics. The police have remained passive or become accomplices to the ruling party’s abuses. There are thus legitimate fears they could become further politicised, similar to the National Intelligence Service (Service national de renseignement), which is already trying to destabilise the opposition. Meanwhile, the main opposition political parties’ election strategies either have yet to be worked out or, apart from those of a few new players, fail to offer an alternative political vision. Most parties simply criticise CNDD-FDD leaders by denouncing suspected corruption and authoritarian practices.

Given President Nkurunziza’s popularity in rural areas and the financial and logistical advantages it derives from control of state institutions, the CNDD-FDD is in a strong position to retain the presidency. It seems to fear, however, that it could lose its majority in parliament and dominance over provincial administrations and thus be forced to form a coalition government, a scenario which party hardliners, notably military leaders, strongly wish to avoid. This prospect and the harassment of opposition parties suggest it intends to win the local and parliamentary elections at all costs.

While the present problems do not make a return to civil war likely, Burundi’s regional and wider international partners need to urgently support policies that limit the real risk of serious election violence that would plunge it into a new political crisis and endanger much of the recent progress. Civil society organisations should support creation of efficient electoral violence observation mechanisms, and the media should document and report incidents. The countries in the regional initiative on Burundi (Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda in particular) should boost efforts to improve the training and operations of the national police by providing a regional police mission. Embedded within the Burundian force, a few small teams in each province equipped by donors with their own logistics and communications could support the planning of election security as well as advise on and monitor implementation.

This regional police mission should be led by a commissioner working directly with the director general of the Burundian police and report to a senior regional special envoy mandated by the regional initiative and the African Union to help resolve major political disputes arising from serious security incidents and allegations of electoral malpractice. The special envoy would also coordinate international engagement, which has weakened since the dissolution of the partnership for peace on Burundi and the expulsion of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General at the end of 2009. A retired head of state from the region familiar with Burundian politics and respected by all parties would be well suited for this role.

Nairobi/Brussels, 12 February 2010

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