Votes counted in controversial Burundi polls as ruling party eyes win

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

Burundi election officials finished vote-counting on Tuesday, a day after internationally condemned polls boycotted by the opposition, with the ruling party expected to win a sweeping victory.

“The counting is completed in all the polling stations throughout Burundi,” election commission spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye told AFP, with those votes now being collated and taken to larger centres for final tallies before results can be announced.

Voting on Monday was marked by grenade attacks, with the election commission claiming an “enormous” turnout despite many polling stations remaining quiet.

The poll followed weeks of violence and a failed coup attempt sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s defiant bid for a third term, with more than 70 people killed.

Almost four million people were registered to vote, but the opposition boycotted the polls, as they did in the last elections in 2010, claiming it was not possible to hold a fair vote. Almost 144,000 refugees have fled into neighbouring nations.

The only international observers were those of the UN, who said that their presence should not be “interpreted as a validation” of the process.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier called for the voting to be delayed, as Burundi faces its worst crisis since the end of its civil war nine years ago.

The African Union refused to send observers as it was not possible to hold “free, fair, transparent and credible elections.”

The European Union warned the polls would “only exacerbate the profound crisis”, while former colonial power Belgium said the polls were not credible and could “further divide the country.”

– First of three key votes –

Ruling party campaign chief Willy Nyamitwe, who is also Nkurunziza’s head of communications, said he was “very satisfied”, adding that the “people responded massively and early.”

Provisional results of local elections could be ready as early as late Tuesday or Wednesday, when parliamentary results are also likely due, according to the election commission spokesman, adding it was “impossible” to give turnout figures before results were fully compiled.

In polling stations in Bujumbura queues were short and turnout sparse, with election officials at times outnumbering voters, although in pro-government areas turn out was higher, according to AFP reporters.

Monday’s double polls were the first stage of three votes in Burundi, with presidential polls due on July 15 followed by senatorial elections on July 24.

Opponents say Nkurunziza’s bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way for the end of 13 years of civil war in 2006.

Civil society groups backed the boycott in a joint statement calling on voters to skip the “sham elections”.

Under the constitution, based on peace deals that ended the civil war, there are strict ethnic quotas in parliament.

Parliament must be made up of 60 percent from the majority Hutu people — who make up some 85 percent of the population — with the remaining 40 percent of elected seats reserved for the minority Tutsi.

Opposition leader Pacifique Nininahazwe, who organised anti-government protests before fleeing into exile, said the government “invent the numbers”.

Fellow opposition leader Charles Nditije said the polls were “a parody of elections.”

Several top officials — including a deputy vice-president as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court — have already fled the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.

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