ADDIS ABABA. — Voting in Burundi’s controversial elections opened yesterday despite a string of grenade attacks on polling stations, the latest in weeks of violence sparked by the president’s defiant bid for a third term.
Assailants threw grenades in both the capital Bujumbura and at some provincial voting centres ahead of yesterday’s parliamentary and local elections, delaying the start of voting in many areas, police and election officials said.
Another grenade exploded in the capital shortly after voting began.
The African Union announced it would not act as an observer in yesterday’s polls, saying the conditions were not right for “credible elections” after weeks of violent protests and international calls for the vote to be delayed.
“Noting that the necessary conditions are not met for the organisation of free, fair, transparent and credible elections . . . the AU Commission will not observe the local and parliamentary elections scheduled to take place this Monday (yesterday),” AU commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement on Sunday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also called for the elections to be delayed after the opposition said they would not take part, as Burundi faces its worst crisis since its civil war ended nine years ago.
The European Union yesterday also condemned Burundi’s “grave” decision to hold elections despite ongoing violence sparked by the president’s bid for a third term, saying it would worsen the situation.
“The organisation of legislative election . . . can only exacerbate the profound crisis which is gripping Burundi,” a spokesperson for the EU diplomatic service said in a statement.
Last month the EU said it was suspending its electoral observer mission to Burundi.
The government has defied all requests for a delay, and the electoral commission said on Sunday all was ready for the polls.
The unrest gripping Burundi was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to run for a third consecutive term. The presidential election is scheduled for July 15.
On the eve of yesterday’s legislative elections, top party official and parliament head Pie Ntavyohanyuma said he had joined some 127 000 other Burundians who have fled the country, denouncing Nkurunziza’s “illegal” bid to stay in power.
“The stalemate in the political process and the increase in acts of violence may undermine the important gains made” in the country since the end of civil war in 2006 “with serious implications for peace and security in Burundi and for the stability of the entire region,” warned Dlamini-Zuma.
Burundi emerged from 13 years of civil war in 2006 and Nkurunziza’s opponents argue that his bid for another term in office is unconstitutional and violates the peace accord that paved the way to the end of the civil war.
The African Union Commission chair appealed to the Burundi government and all other parties involved “to take a full measure of the dangers threatening their country, respond positively to the urgent calls for dialogue and restraint”.
Former colonial power Belgium has said it would not recognise the results of the elections, saying it is “impossible” for the polls to be held in an “acceptable manner”. — New Vision/The Telegraph.