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Burundi voters back new constitution — but opposition cites violence and intimidation

VOTERS in Burundi have overwhelmingly approved a controversial constitution that could see the president stay in power until 2034 with opposition groups declaring the referendum undemocratic.

The country’s electoral commission today confirmed the result of last Thursday’s referendum with 73 per cent voting for the changes that see the presidential term of office extended from five to seven years from 2020.

Amendments to the constitution will allow President Pierre Nkurunziza — who was given the title Supreme Eternal Guide by his party earlier this year — to stand for two further terms, meaning he could effectively rule until 2034.

Electoral Commission spokesman Pierre Claver Ndayicariye confirmed a turnout of 96 per cent for the election out of 4.7 million registered voters.

However, opposition groups claimed voting took place amid death threats, arrests and the breaking up of rallies calling for a “no” vote in the referendum.

Melchiade Nzopfabarush,  a member of the ruling CNDD-FDD, was jailed last month after threatening to throw opponents of the constitutional changes into a lake and the party’s general secretary told a rally in the capital Bujumbura last week that those voting against the changes were “enemies of the nation.” 

Mr Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 following the end of a 12-year conflict between Hutu and Tutsi groups.

He stood for a controversial third term in 2015 sparking violent protests and a brutal clampdown on opposition, with more than 200,000 people fleeing the country.

The former PE teacher banned jogging in Burundi in 2014 with 21 opposition activists jailed for life for using running as a way to organise “an illegal demonstration that turned violent.”

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