Voters in Burundi are heading to the polls to elect a new president for the country, members of parliament and local officials in Wednesday’s elections, despite the threat of coronavirus that is sweeping through many African countries.
There are also fears of voter oppression and likely violence as the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza is not on the ballot but under pressure to deliver his party’s candidate, General Evariste Ndayishimiye.
This has prompted the African Union Commission and United Nations to release a joint statement urging the defense, security forces and state-owned media to fully contribute to preserving a stable and peaceful environment, a pre-requisite for free, inclusive, fair, transparent and credible elections in Burundi.
The AU and UN urged “all political actors to refrain from all acts of violence and hate speech, and resort to dialogue, to enable the holding of consensual and peaceful elections. They also encourage the Burundian authorities to ensure and facilitate the full participation of women during this electoral process.”
Burundi’s election marks the country’s first step in moving away from President Nkurunziza’s 15-year reign, which has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses, and his controversial decision to seek a third term five years ago, which propelled the country into an economic crisis.
General Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party is considered the frontrunner among six other candidates.
Ndayishimiye has suggested voters not fear the coronavirus, saying “God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi.”
Burundi’s leadership has largely ignored the threat of the coronavirus, allowing large political rallies leading up to the vote and imposing no restrictions on people’s movement.
The UN and AU also expressed regret over the government of Burundi’s decision to expel four top World health organization officials from the country without explanation
So far, Burundi has confirmed 42 cases and one death from the virus, but some doctors have expressed concern the government is not revealing the full impact of the virus on the population.
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