Referendum postponed to 22 December

A referendum on Burundi's post-transition constitution will now be held on 22 December, and not 26 November as earlier scheduled, an official of the National Independent Electoral Commission announced on Wednesday.

Paul Ngarambe, chairman of the commission known as the CENI, said in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, that the postponement was due to logistic problems.

"Ballot boxes, ink, polling booths and even electoral cards are not available and those are essential instruments for the organisation of the referendum," he said on national radio and television. "Even if we get them today it would be late."

He added that the postponement would not affect the timetable for other elections due in early 2005. Local elections are scheduled for February, legislative elections in March and the presidential poll in April.

He said the dates for these elections could only change depending on the electoral code and communal law, yet to be adopted by parliament.

This is the second postponement of the referendum. Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye had first given 20 October as the date, but this was later moved to 26 November.

Currently, provincial electoral commission officials are preparing for a 10-day voters' census due to start on Saturday. The commission has recruited 17,500 agents for the census.

Meanwhile, the country's development partners continue to donate funds for the elections. The latest, for US $507,000, came on Wednesday from the EU. Ngarambe said the EU funds would be used to buy office equipment for the commission's national and provincial offices and also to pay the staff.

The referendum is essential for the country's peace process, as it would set power-sharing arrangements for the Hutu and Tutsi political parties.

Under the proposed new constitution, the country's government institutions would be composed of 60 percent Hutu and 40 percent Tutsi, except for the national defence forces and the Senate where the ratio is to be 50-50.

However, Tutsi dominated parties had opposed the draft constitution, saying it gave too much power to Hutus and that it did not have enough guarantees for Tutsis.

On 10 November, Ndayizeye dismissed his vice-present, Alphonse Marie Kadege, for openly opposing the proposed post-transition constitution.