The main opposition leader in Burundi, Agathon Rwasa, is challenging the recent elections in court after concerns about voting “irregularities” were raised by the country’s Catholic bishops.
The election saw Evariste Ndayishimiye, the new leader of the incumbent CNDD-FDD party, elected with a 69 per cent majority, whilst Rwasa’s Council for Freedom (CNL) received just 24 per cent of the vote. A spokesman from the CNL party claimed that Rwasa actually won 57 per cent of the vote.
Rwasa has approached the country’s constitutional court questioning the impartiality of the electoral commission after the electoral roll went unpublished and has claimed that “there are many examples showing, for example, the stuffing of ballot boxes”.
Burundi is predominantly Catholic and the Catholic Church there has played a prominent role in monitoring the May 20 elections, deploying 2,716 observers across the country to report from the polls.
Earlier this week, the country’s Catholic bishops reported “many irregularities” in the election. Despite stating that the elections had been “generally held in a peaceful manner”, the bishops condemned the “intimidation” of voters their officials repeatedly witnessed, and they said that they “deplore” the various modes of voter fraud they found, which included people “voting in place of the deceased and refugees” and people “who voted more than once”.
The previous election in 2015 was marred by violence as people protested against the then President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term, which many considered unconstitutional. In the aftermath of the violence, the UN human rights office reported over 300 extrajudicial killings and the International Criminal Court (ICC) started investigations into the actions of the Burundian government. The CNDD-FDD subsequently removed the UN human rights office from the country and became the first state to leave the ICC.
President Nkurunziza confounded expectations by not running again in 2020, but it has since emerged that he will continue to operate with considerable influence as a “Supreme Guide” to the government.
In the past year, the Catholic bishops have repeatedly condemned the ruling CNDD-FDD’s continued efforts to “suffocate and assault certain political parties and to persecute their members” in the run-up to the election. The new president-elect Ndayishimiye, an outspoken Catholic, has condemned the bishops for “sowing division”, saying that “it is shameful to spread hatred among the faithful”.