Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Burundi: From Electoral Boycott to Political Impasse

Source: International Crisis Group

Nairobi/Brussels | 7 Feb 2011

Burundi risks reversing the decade of progress it has enjoyed since its civil war ended unless the government resumes political dialogue with the opposition.

Burundi: From Electoral Boycott to Political Impasse , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the serious problems that have developed in the wake of last year’s elections that ended in a landside victory for the ruling party, including marginalisation of the opposition and the emergence of violent political banditry. Against a backdrop of weak governance, this combination threatens a major setback for democracy in the still fragile state.

“The ruling party is in effect reinforcing a nascent rebellion and doing harm to democracy by marginalising and repressing the opposition”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director.

Following announcement that the ruling Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie et Forces de Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) had received 64 per cent of the vote in local elections that all national and international observers considered were free and fair, the opposition parties denounced “massive electoral fraud”. Subsequently, they formed a coalition and called for dismissal of the electoral commission and cancellation of the results. When their demands were rejected, most boycotted the contests for president and the legislature, which resulted in overwhelming victories for the ruling party. On the pretext that there had been violent incidents during the presidential vote, the security services arrested many members of the opposition, while its main leaders left the country or went underground.

To halt this post-electoral authoritarian trend, the institutional dialogue between all political actors should be resumed within the framework of a reorganised permanent party forum. The government and the opposition must engage urgently in talks to improve the political and security context. They also need to agree on a law on the status of the opposition guaranteeing political freedom, freedom of assembly and an end to arbitrary arrests. Opposition leaders, in turn, should denounce publicly all acts of violence and renounce violence as a political tool.

The international community and religious leaders must press government and opposition alike to restart talks without delay, in order to end the political impasse, and put pressure on the government to respect its commitments regarding human rights, governance and rule of law.

“Six months after the elections, the breakdown of dialogue between the main opposition parties and the government remains, and the violent political banditry is worrying”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Burundi has made significant progress in consolidating peace in recent years, but it remains a fragile state that still requires international engagement”.