In a move likely to ease political tensions, parliamentarians in Burundi on 25 April adopted by consensus a new electoral code to guide the conduct of presidential, legislative and local elections due next year.
In 2010, alleged rigging in local elections led opposition parties to boycott parliamentary and presidential polls. Relations between the ruling party and its rivals have been strained ever since, giving rise to fears the country could slide back into conflict.
Chovineau Mugwengezo, spokesman of the Alliance of Democrats for Change, a coalition of opposition parties
“We are satisfied…. [The Code] contains points we had called for. For example, it reduces the number of [separate] elections from five to four, and [introduces] a single ballot paper to make things easier for voters. Another important point is the elimination of the need for presidential candidates to have attained a certain level of education. The constitution is clear on this: anyone can stand for election regardless of their academic level.”
[There were fears that this academic clause in the previous code would have been used to bar Agathon Rwasa, leader of one wing of the FNL opposition party, from running for president].
“Burundi has good laws but it’s always hard to apply them here. The 2015 elections risk not being good following the [alleged] distribution of weapons to youths in the CNDD-FDD presidential [currently ruling] party. People in the opposition are hastily summoned to intimidate them and the opposition lacks political space. Laws on their own are not enough; they must be met with political will. This is why we wrote to the president at the weekend after the vote asking him to take matters in hand to authorize a neutral investigation into the arms distribution. That is one necessary condition for the success of the elections in 2015.”
Pacifique Nininahazwe, chairman of the Forum for Conscience and Development, a civil society organization
“I was pleasantly surprised to see how deputies worked together to correct certain measures. I was astonished to see some deputies saying that such and such a measure [in the previous code] ran counter to the constitution, when they were the first to say the opposite a few days earlier. We hope that in the future deputies will again work together for the good of the country as they have done with this bill.”
Agathon Rwasa, head of one wing of the National Liberation Front party
“I am satisfied. This law is important. It contains clauses that came out of a meeting among politicians last year. People should know that this country belongs to us all and that different opinions should be taken into consideration. But what intrigues me is how certain government officials divide political parties. Divided political parties should be reunited so they can be strong when taking part in the 2015 elections.
[As well as the FNL, political parties such as Uprona and the UPD now have two wings, only one of which is recognized by the authorities].
United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB)
“BNUB congratulates the Government and Parliamentarians of Burundi for this significant step forward, which should contribute to the restoration of confidence, the improvement of the political environment and the creation of propitious conditions for the proper preparation of the electoral process, with a view to free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections in 2015.
“BNUB takes this opportunity to renew the recent call by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Burundian political class to work together to build a peaceful, democratic and prosperous nation.
“In this regard, and in accordance with its mandate, BNUB will continue to support the efforts of the Government and the entire Burundian society for the consolidation of peace and democratic achievements in Burundi ahead of the elections in 2015.”
[Earlier in April, Burundi expelled BNUB’s security adviser amid a row over claims made in a BNUB cable to UN headquarters that weapons had this year been distributed to members of the ruling party’s youth wing.]
Yolande Bouka, researcher, Institute for Security Studies
“The adoption is a positive step. Burundi can now prepare for the 2015 polls and announce the electoral calendar. In the past months, we have witnessed the CNDD-FDD forcing its way to pass the new land law, a new constitution, and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with varying degrees of success. When the ruling party and the opposition agreed on the roadmap last year, participants agreed that the electoral code would be a part of a minimalist constitutional revision. However, when the CNDD-FDD decided to unilaterally draft, and moved to adopt, a maximalist constitutional revision, and that the document failed to be adopted last month, there were concerns about the fact that a year before the election, there was still no new and consensual electoral code adopted, raising questions about how and if the elections would take place as scheduled.
“That being said, the adoption of this new electoral code may simply be a sop to appease the opposition and the international community. There is still a great deal of controversy and tension between the CNDD-FDD and the opposition and civil society. Additionally, one wonders, while this new electoral code is now in place and satisfies all parties involved - including Agathon Rwasa’s supporters as the need for a university degree as a requirement to run for office has been rejected - will the CNDD-FDD move forward with the candidacy of President Nkurunziza for a third term, in contradiction to the letter and spirit of [the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement] and the constitution? Additionally, will the government relax its grip on the political space and allow all candidates of the opposition to campaign freely around the country? While essential to the holding of the 2015 elections, the unanimous adoption of the new electoral code may simply be the calm before the storm.