Tue 25 May 2010
I arrived in Burundi six days ago, just in time to be around for the communal or “district” elections which took place yesterday, the first in a series that will take place over the summer and into September. They were originally scheduled three days earlier, but delays in distributing the elector cards and problems with registration meant that as many as a quarter of the population would have had difficulty voting.
Voting is conducted here by having a ballot for each of the candidates, and placing the card of the desired candidate in one white envelope, and all the other in a second black envelope (the discard pile). There are two potential problems with this system. The first is that there were a number of reports that there were not equal number of cards, which if the election had continued, might have made it more difficult to vote for one party than another. Secondly, if someone is interested in buying votes, they can verify that you have not voted for another party if you bring them the card for that party. In response, this is illegal, and they also count the votes in the discard box, but there are reports of voters taking cards with them.
Campaigning is only allowed between 16 days before and 48 hours before the polls open (think how that would change politics in the US…) As I understand it this is meant to limit the conflict that is created as parties campaign. Indeed there have been scattered incidents in the country, ranging from the deaths of party members to attempts at violent intimidation or vote buying to events that escalated into riots. That said, compared to some expectations, it seems from the results so far that the elections have been a significant success, with only scattered and relatively minor irregularities, an overall a tranquil and fair environment. The HROC program, in coordination with the Quaker Peace Network (QPN), was at a number of polling stations overseeing the process, and we will be collecting their observations in the days ahead, and we’ll also be seeing how people respond to the announcement of the winners.