Elections in Burundi : Moment of Truth

The elections in Burundi will be decisive for this country and is scheduled to take place between the end of May and August 2015. The future of the present rulers (President Pierre Nkurunziza considers running for a third term) and, more importantly, the upholding of the 2000 Arusha agreement as the foundation for peace, are at stake. Popular protests and the precedent set by the fall of Burkina Faso’s president suggest street confrontations will take place if President Nkurunziza decides to impose his candidacy. The peace that was restored progressively since the Arusha agreement, will be ended by a return to violence and it would also have destabilising consequences in the region and mark a failure in peacebuilding. To avoid this scenario, Burundi’s partners, who have already expressed their concerns, should increase their involvement in the electoral process and prepare a gradual response depending on how inclusive the process will be. With the upcoming congress of the ruling party, which is supposed to decide on its presidential candidate, and the 26 May legislative and local elections only a few weeks away, tension is rising and prospects for free and fair polls are slimmer by the day. While preparatory meetings held in 2013 and the return of opposition leaders to the country raised hopes of an electoral process based on dialogue between the regime and the opposition, there are increasing signs of a looming electoral crisis. The partisan use of state institutions, exactions committed by youth militia (the Imbonerakure), the lack of confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), strategies by the regime to reduce the inclusivity of the electoral process and the president’s will to run again exacerbate tensions. The opposition wants revenge after its defeat in the 2010 polls, but it remains uncertain if its leaders will be allowed to contest the elections. The prospect of a third term for President Nkurunziza calls into question the preservation of peace in Burundi. The president is risking it all by trying to force his name on the ballot, against the Catholic Church, civil society, a fraction of his own party and most external partners. The opposition’s survival is at stake and the security forces are unsure how to react in case of violent crisis. The situation is much more serious than the failed 2010 elections: what lies behind this new electoral cycle is the upholding of the Arusha agreement as the foundation of Burundi’s regime.