, 29 May, 2020 / 1:05 AM
Members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi (CECAB) have denounced the recent general elections in their country alleging “many irregularities”, which they say put to question the outcome of the poll announced Monday, May 25.
The anomalies in the May 20 poll, the Bishops say in their collective statement issued Tuesday, May 26, range from events before, during and after the actual casting of ballots.
“The Catholic Church deplores in particular the pressure exercised on certain party agents to sign in advance reports on the vote counting exercise, the stuffing of some ballot boxes, voting in place of the deceased and refugees, multiple votes by proxy, the fact that there were voters in some polling stations who voted more than once,” the Bishops in Burundi have highlighted.
They add in their statement signed by CECAB Chairman, Bishop Joachim Ntahondereye, “We deplore many irregularities with regard to the freedom and transparency of the electoral process as well as fairness in the treatment of certain candidates and voters.”
They also condemn “the exclusion of some party agents and observers from the places where the votes were counted, the intimidation and coercion of some voters by administrative officials who accompanied them to the polling booths, (and) the intrusion of unauthorized persons into the counting stations.”
On Monday, the Electoral Commission of Burundi declared Evariste Ndayishimiye, a candidate of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), the winner of the presidential election, having received 68.72 percent of the votes, more than double the opposition’s leader, Agathon Rwasa, who garnered 24.19 percent.
The opposition party, the National Council for Liberty (CNL), called the process “an electoral masquerade” and promised to appeal to the Constitutional Court this week. If the opposition’s appeal is rejected, Ndayishimiye will be sworn into office in August, according to country’s constitution.
During the elections, the Catholic Church deployed 2,716 observers to monitor the polling stations. While the number of observers was fewer than the number of stations, they were able to analyze polling stations in all of Burundi’s 119 municipalities.
“In the face of these and other irregularities, we wonder whether they do not undermine the (final) results to be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court on 4 June,” probe the members of CECAB in their collective statement.
The Catholic Bishops in Burundi also call for calm and recommend all those who feel that their rights have been violated to privilege authorized ways to be restored to their rights.
“We condemn all injustices as much as we refuse any recourse to the path of violence,” the Prelates say.
They add, “We recommend that the public authorities punish all those who, after the vote, persecute their neighbors or discourage those who might be tempted to torment them for demonstrating political tendencies different from their own.”
“From the moment when the law had allowed several candidates to take part in the campaign, every citizen had the right to express his or her preference for the candidate of his or her choice,” they observe.
Meanwhile, the electoral commission chief Pierre Claver Kazihise said, Thursday, he was “surprised” by CECAB’s conclusions and said national observers from 38 other civil society and religious groups had “not seen the same thing”.
Foreign observers were not allowed to oversee the electoral process.
Burundi’s main opposition party on Thursday filed its submission to the Constitutional Court to contest the results of the presidential election.
Prior to the elections, Bishops in Burundi expressed concern about election-related violence in their country and called on all Burundians to be ready to “accept the results of the elections and ensure that no one causes instability or war.”
They also urged those responsible for the electoral process and other authorities to remain vigilant and ensure freedom for all.
Burundi has been plagued by unrest since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a disputed third term. However, in June 2018, President Nkurunziza said that he would not seek another term.
Relations between the Church and the state have been tense since 2015.
Last year, the Bishops emphasized the administration's political violence and warned that the Imbonerakure – the youth wing of the ruling party – had replaced security forces in the country.
In response, the government said that some Bishops should be defrocked and claimed that these men were spitting “venomous hatred through incendiary messages,” according to a tweet from presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe.
In their May 26 collective statement, the Bishops appealed to the people of God in Burundi “to put their trust in the Lord who remains the only Master in history and to keep calm.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa