Burundians have voted to lift constitutional restrictions to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for more terms in office, said the head of Burundi’s electoral commission as he released provisional results of the controversial referendum held last Thursday.
Head of electoral commission (CENI), Pierre Clever Ndayicariye said on Monday that 73.26% of voters across the country voted for constitutional amendment that lifts term limits for Nkurunziza.
The result implies that Nkurunziza, whose current term expires in two years, could run for two more terms and be President until 2034.
Agathon Rwasa, head of Amizero y’Abarundi bloc who was campaigning for “NO” and got 19.34% of the vote has rejected the results, calling the process a “parody” and undemocratic.
Ndayicariye said more than 96% of Burundians participated in the referendum and said the exercise was held in a peaceful atmosphere. Invalid votes represented 4% while those abstained were 3.28%.
Burundians were being asked to vote YES or NO to a proposal to extend the Presidential term from 5 to 7 years and also scrap one of two Vice Presidents so as to shift powers from the government to the President.
The EU and the US have denounced intimidation, repression and harassment of opposition supporters.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly documented widespread abuses by security forces and government-sponsored organisations.
Tensions have been running high for months amid a wave of alleged detentions and killings of the government’s perceived opponents.
At least 26 people were killed in an attack in the north-western province of Cibitoke on May 12 which government called “terrorists”.
Nkurunziza, a former teacher and rebel leader has been in power since 2005. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote.
In 2015 he triggered a crisis by pursuing a third term. More than 1,000 people have died and more than 400,000 have fled the country since.