Wed 2 Jun 2010
Since my last post, there's been a fair amount of news surrounding the communal elections. When the preliminary results were announced, a group of eight, and then 13 opposition political parties dismissed the election as a fraud, called for new elections, and for a new independent electoral commission. The basis of their complaint was a series of claims about irregularities in the election process, ranging from the misuse of government property for campaigning by the ruling
party in the pre-election period, to the lack of voting cards for certain political parties, to a claim that the electricity outage in 7 of 17 provinces during the time the votes were being counted was part of a deliberate plan to stuff ballot boxes. The list goes on, and ranges, in my opinion, from rather speculative circumstantial claims to some that were clearly confirmed by the press and other observers.
The major groups involved in election monitoring, such as the Catholic Church, the European Union, and COSOME (an organization of civil society groups) have stated that, despite some irregularities here and there, overall the elections were free and fair. To me, it is unfortunate that this message gets reduced to saying simply that things went well, either as a result of the way they present their observations or the way the media represents them. While it is true that many things passed more peacefully than some imagined, to the extent that the ruling party and opposition parties used violence, intimidation, and other unfair tactics to influence the outcome, this needs to be highlighted and addressed, not marginalized under the mantle of all too rosy picture. Then yesterday it was reported that five of the seven candidates that were expected to participate in the presidential election have dropped out in protest, claiming that the vote would be rigged in favor of the ruling party. This includes Agathon Rwasa of the FNL, the rebel group that ended their insurgency in 2008 and recently became a political party, and was the largest opposition group. Earlier, when asked how he thought the election went, Rwasa responded that there hadn't been any election. Then yesterday, when asked if pulling out of the race would harm democracy in Burundi his response was that there hadn't been any democracy in the first place.
Call it what you will, it puts Burundi in an awkward situation. If things go forward as planned, the incumbent President will run against only two other candidates who have miniscule chances of winning, and it will look like a rather thin version of democracy. Yet the ruling party is unlikely to make significant concessions such as creation of a new electoral commission, since that would admit guilt that they don't take themselves to have. It's hard to know where things will go from here.