Mon, Jun 08, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Opposition leader says Burundi’s elections must be held

RUNNING OUT OF TIME:Agathon Rwasa said that it is essential to have an elected government in place by the time the president’s current term ends on Aug. 26

Reuters, BUJUMBURA, Burundi

Burundi opposition leader Agathon Rwasa said a presidential election must be held by August at the latest, but a fair vote is unlikely without security and a free media.

A planned June 26 poll looks increasingly untenable after more than a month of protests against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. Parliamentary and local elections have already been postponed due to the unrest in which more than 30 people have been killed, according to activists.

Burundi emerged from an ethnically fueled civil war in 2005 and the crisis has stirred fears of a new bout of violent instability in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Rwasa, a presidential candidate and, like Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, said in an interview that it was essential to have an elected government in place by Aug. 26, when the president’s current term ends.

“There is no room for a transitional government. We will have to comply with the constitution. We knew ahead of these elections that we should hold it so that we can have a newly elected president, and MPs and so on, by August this year,” Rwasa said.

Commission Electorale Nationale Independante (CENI) on Wednesday said that it was delaying the local and parliamentary votes and was working on a new schedule. It made no mention of the presidential election.

Opponents say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term would violate the constitution and the Arusha peace deal that ended the 12-year civil war. Both stipulate no one should be president for longer than 10 years.

Nkurunziza’s backers argue that his first term should not count since he was picked by lawmakers rather than voted in. He has shown no signs of backing down, citing a court ruling that says he can run.

Burundi is facing its worst crisis since the civil war that pitted the army, which was then led by the Tutsi minority, against rebel Hutu groups, one of which was led by Nkurunziza and another by Rwasa.

Rwasa also called for the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), to be disarmed. The ruling party denies claims the group acts as a militia.

“I think it isn’t easy to succeed in disarming these Imbonerakure within a few weeks’ time and we cannot even rely on the police as defense forces who are under the command of Pierre Nkurunziza. We cannot expect them to do that task,” Rwasa said.

He said international partners should help disarm them, but did not elaborate.

He reiterated that the president should give up his bid for a third term.

“Once Nkurunziza will give up his selfish interests and think big, then we can hope that it is easy to schedule a free and fair election in a very short time,” Rwasa said.

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