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Burundi to hold referendum seeking to extend presidential terms on May 17


Burundians will vote in a referendum set for May 17 that could extend President Pierre Nkurunziza’s rule for at least a decade.

Opposition parties have claimed that citizens were intimidated to register.

During the week long registration process last month, opposition figures and residents in many parts of Burundi said they were forced to sign up.

There are reports that police set up road blocks and stopped people to ask them for proof that they had registered.

The government has denied the claims.

The referendum will decide whether to amend the constitution to extend presidential terms to seven years from five.

The proposed changes would limit the president to two consecutive terms but would not take into account previous terms, potentially extending Nkurunziza’s rule to 2034.

Critics say the announcement was likely a step toward Nkurunziza seeking a life presidency.

“I registered and will participate in the vote. The vote is a personal thing. I will enter the voting booth but whether I vote yes or no is only for me to know,” said one Bujumbura resident, Willy Niyonkuru.

“I was happy to hear about the referendum. It’s my duty as a Burundian and I can’t wait for the day to come to go vote in the referendum,” said Gilbert Manirambona.

Burundi has been rocked by insecurity since 2015, when Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office that his opponents said was unconstitutional.

Those who opposed Nkurunziza’s third five-term launched an armed struggle against his government, and the resulting violence has left hundreds dead and forced at least 400,000 people into exile.

Phenias Nigaba is a spokesperson for opposition party Frodebu Sahanywa.

“Changing the constitution without consulting is anti-constitutional, because article 299 of the constitution states that no revision can be made on the constitution if it goes against national cohesion and against the principles of democracy,” he said.

Nkurunziza was elected president by lawmakers in 2005, after a peace deal ended a decade of civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels, in which 300,000 people were killed.

There is a ban on public partisan campaigning either for or against the changes until two weeks before the referendum.

Nigaba said his party is rallying supporters to vote against the constitutional amendment.

“I want to take this opportunity to say to all our supporters and to all those who want to save maintain the democratic process to support us in this process, but more importantly to vote no,” he said.

UN rights investigators and independent activists have accused government forces of widespread violations including forced disappearances, and of orchestrating a campaign of terror.

Regional efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict have dragged on without results so far.


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