A Jump into the Unknown: What do the elections mean for Burundi?

Published: 1 Jul 2015
By: Anonymous

These are reflections from a Burundian activist. His name has been withheld for his own security.

Burundians have just finished the elections of local council members and parliamentarians. These elections happened in a context of political crisis triggered by the decision of President Nkurunziza to run for a third term. The opposition argued that Nkurunziza is not allowed to stand for another term while his party insisted that he was allowed to run especially following a decision by the Constitutional Court supporting this position. What do these elections mean for Burundi?

The parliamentary and communal elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties and coalitions. Even though, these elections are in some ways the most important –even more important than the presidential elections.

Communal elections are critical because communes are decentralised administrative entities. They are the basis of economic and social development. Being absent from the communal council and administration is a missed opportunity to form a link with the local population. Participating in the communal administration offers the prospect of spearheading the socio-economic development in any commune. Consequently, the journey to success or failure in the general election starts with a comfortable win in communal election.

On the other hand, parliamentary elections are critically important because not only do they allow winners to participate in the law making process, parties or coalitions with more than one-twentieth of the parliamentary vote are invited, but not obliged, to submit to the president a list of persons to serve as ministers. They are entitled to at least the same proportion, rounded off downwards, of the total number of ministers as their proportion of members in the National Assembly. If the president dismisses a minister, she/he must choose a replacement from a list submitted by the party or coalition of the minister in question.

The absence of opposition parties in the parliament and the ministerial level in the executive only damages the opportunity of these parties’ supporters to get decent employment in a country where the government remains the most significant employer, it is also a five year absence from formal participation in decision making processes in the country. This will diminish the extent to which the opposition voice is heard and heeded.

Therefore, boycotting this set of elections was a considerable risk for the opposition. Although the opposition hoped to achieve a postponement of the elections, it is now clear that this will not happen. A similar boycott in the 2010 general election left the Nkurunziza government with the executive and parliamentary powers to take decisions without opposition participation.

This leaves us with a set of questions on what is the opposition’s next move? Are we heading to another five years of an absolute power by the government while the opposition sits on the bench? Does the opposition understand the consequence of their action? What is the place of the international community in all this?

Already the National Electoral Commission has declared that the withdrawal process by the opposition did not follow the law and that, consequently, the NEC considers the opposition to be in the race. Now that it appears that one of the opposition coalitions, led by Agathon Rwasa, is coming in second. Will they recognise the outcome of the elections and take the seats which they have won? Is the country or is the country heading towards and even bigger crisis as the European Commission predicted?

Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Justice and Accountability
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Burundi
Type: IRRI Blog