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Burundi: Ensuring Democratic Elections

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Nairobi/Brussels - Burundi’s escape from its long civil war can only be solidified if all political forces, including government, opposition parties, civil society and media ensure that this year’s series of elections is truly democratic.

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Burundi: Ensuring Credible Elections, the new report from the International Crisis Group, examines the rise in tensions before communal, presidential, legislative and additional local elections that are to be conducted separately between May and September. Such an escalation could lead to new violence that would ruin the credibility of the electoral process and endanger a fragile democracy.

“Harassment and intimidation from police and the ruling party’s youth wing are a worrying development that can easily destabilise the whole electoral process”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group´s Central Africa Project Director.

After strong international pressure was put on the ruling party, consensus was reached in September 2009 on an Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and an electoral framework endorsed by the majority of the political class. However, opposition parties are still not able to operate freely. In many areas, local administrations are controlled by the ruling party (the CNDD-FDD) and order the police to disrupt opposition gatherings. Civil society organisations and some media are harassed for denouncing the authoritarian tendencies of the CNDD-FDD, whose youth wing’s physical training, war songs and quasi-military organisation raise the spectre of militia violence and a major intimidation campaign. The other former rebels – the FNL and the FRODEBU – are mobilising their own youth wings to oppose intimidation.

Political parties should refrain from verbal or other provocation that could increase political tensions and stop mobilising youth groups for violent or intimidation purposes. The media must allow all parties free and equal access. The countries in the regional initiative on Burundi (Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda in particular) should boost efforts to improve the training and operation of the national police by providing a regional police mission. A senior regional envoy should be appointed to facilitate resolution of political disputes and party leaders warned they face sanctions if they rig elections and possible international prosecution if they commit serious violent crimes.

“Burundi’s regional and wider international partners need to urgently support policies that limit the real risk of serious election violence that would plunge it into a new political crisis and endanger much of the recent progress”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Civil society organisations should support creation of efficient electoral violence observation mechanisms, and the media should document and report incidents”.

© Crisis International -
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