Reports of flawed voter list leaves transition floundering

With widespread irregularities reported in voter lists that had been publicly posted for 10 days that ended on Sunday, Burundians are increasingly expressing concern that the peace process is now faltering.

"The flaws in the election process and the bickering of politicians are making us lose hope," Bernard Nsengiyumva, a civil servant in Bujumbura, said. "There is still no electoral code and we don't know when voting will take place, how it will take place or who will be eligible to take part."

The body responsible for running elections, the National Independent Election Commission, has said numerous legal and logistical obstacles have forced it to delay the electoral timetable. Two previous dates for the elections were set and cancelled. Currently no new date has been set.

The deadline ended on Sunday for voters to register complaints about the accuracy of voter lists but voters in some parts of the country reported that the lists had been posted late.

Other voters said they were not listed, or that they saw the same names on more than one list. One radio journalist in Cankuzo Province reported that 125 names registered in one area were identical to 125 names registered in another.

Many leaders, among them Jean-Baptiste Manwangari, leader of one of the two main political parties - the Union pour le progress national (UPRONA) - have said the errors are so grave that free and fair elections were impossible, at the moment. Other leaders are saying the commission should be dissolved.

The commission is yet to report on its evaluation of the complaints.

A professor of political science and history at the Burundi National University, Julien Nimubona, told IRIN there was a problem with the commission which "has not been given sufficient tools to do its work".

Nimubona also said some political leaders were responsible and feared that once elections had been held they may lose power.

In 2004, political leaders agreed on a draft constitution that was to be put before the electorate as soon as the electoral commission could organise a referendum. However, some of the political leaders are now calling for last minute amendments.

One of the most controversial proposals would allow the current interim president, Domicien Ndayizeye, to stand in the elections. Another proposed amendment is for the electorate to vote for the country’s president directly. Under the current constitution, elected parliamentarians can choose the president, a provision many voters now reject.

The draft constitution is based on the peace accord that the government and most rebel groups signed in Arusha in August 2000. The African Union's special representative to Burundi, Mamadou Bah, said on Thursday it was difficult to reconcile the electoral process laid out in the Arusha Accords with the democratic principle of one man, one vote.

However, the unamended constitution only requires that a president be chosen by parliamentarians in the first election for what is known as Burundi’s "post-transitional period". After that five-year period the president is to be elected by popular vote.

Another peculiarity of the elections for the post-transitional period, about which many voters object, is that voters would only be able to vote for parties, not individuals. For Joseph Nzeyimana, the leader of the Rassemblement pour la democratie et le development economique et social, "locked" lists of candidates in each party encourage parties to diversify their lists of representatives and block voters from being able to vote along ethnic lines.

A coalition of 12 political parties that cut across ethnic divides has formed to try to stop the current president from authorising amendments to the constitution on the grounds that the president was chosen, not elected.

"Only an elected president is entitled to propose amendments," Terence Nsanze, leader of the Alliance burundaise-africaine pour le salut, said.

The alliance also has the support of trade unions.

The issue is creating divisions even within some political parties, including President Ndayizeye party, the Front pour la democratie au Burundi which is the other main party besides UPRONA.

Although the disputes are prolonging the transition period and risk undermining the peace process Nimubona said he saw little sign that it could leading to a return to armed conflict. The positive side to all disagreements he said was that people were not taking sides along ethnic lines - Hutu or Tutsi.

"Now parties of different ethnic groups can hunt on the same ground," he said.

Some Burundians are fearful of elections and view the slow down in the electoral process as a blessing.

"Many people forget that our worst crises occurred following elections in 1961, 1965 and 1993," Justin Sindayihebura, a retired teacher and recently-returned refugee, said.