Referendum: Fool’s bargain?

Burundi President has warned against anyone who will try to make propaganda against the draft Constitution. According to the ruling party, the time has not yet come to campaign for or against the referendum scheduled for May 2018. The opposition speaks of political cheating.

Pierre Nkurunziza: "May people know that this is a red line that should not be crossed."

Pierre Nkurunziza: “May people know that this is a red line that should not be crossed.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those who would attempt to obstruct this activity in deeds or words. May they know that this is a red line that should not be crossed, “said President Pierre Nkurunziza, on December 12 in Bugendana commune of Gitega province at the launch of the referendum campaign. He then called on the authorities from bottom to the top to be vigilant and get ready to bring those people before justice.

Three days later, Térence Ntahiraja, Assistant to the Minister of the Interior, said: “At the level of the government, we ask everyone to vote” Yes “.” Woe betide anyone who will be caught doing the counterpropaganda of the government project. “It’s not an election campaign, it’s a referendum. Even political parties are called on to ask their members to vote “Yes”. But the day to vote is the choice of everyone. “In the process, there are reports of the arrest of five pro-Agathon Rwasa activists in Gisuru commune of Ruyigi province. They are accused of holding a clandestine meeting to sensitize the population to vote “No” to the constitutional referendum.

“No reason to be tense”

While political opponents and some human rights activists have been expressing their disapproval of the project, CNDD-FDD party secretary-general Evariste Ndayishimiye has tried to reassure them at a press café on Tuesday, December 19, 2017: “The National Independent Electoral Commission-CENI has stated that after the explanation campaign by the government, it will be the turn of political parties to run the campaign for “Yes” or “No” vote to the referendum. There is no reason to be tense saying that there will be no democracy in this process.” He urges all Burundians in general and politicians in particular to follow this campaign and give suggestions on what can be changed in this draft constitution. “The revision of the Constitution is a commendable action. It comes from the recommendations of the inter-Burundian dialogue. ”

Evariste Ndayishimiye: "The revision of the Constitution is a commendable action."

Evariste Ndayishimiye: “The revision of the Constitution is a commendable action.”

According to him, the Constitution must be amended in order to be adjusted to the current time.
As a result, he refutes the accusations of a hidden agenda. “People think that it is a hidden agenda for CNDD-FDD party to stay in power.” According to him, it is the people who decide on the future of CNDD-FDD. If the party has ideas, principles and programs that benefit the Burundian people, he continues, probably the citizens will keep it in power.

He wondered: “Maybe you talk about staying in power in the context of individuals?” Evariste Ndayishimiye finds this subjective. According to him, there are presidents in the world whose terms are not limited. He gave the example of Germany. “It does not cause problems because it’s the people who decided. They saw that they must let someone capable of developing the society. “For the Secretary-General of the ruling party, the essential thing is to put in place a Constitution capable of ensuring the stability of the country, security and the well-being of citizens. “This is how the government understood it by organizing this campaign.” He assures that he will urge the militants of his political party to vote yes because he finds the revision of the Constitution logical.

Concerning Burundians in exile, Evariste Ndayishimiye does not beat around the bush: “The society must evolve whatever the conditions. Others will join us.” According to him, Burundi has always experienced crises since 1965 and referendums have always been held. “You should know that some of those people who are outside the country have dual nationality. I do not see that someone of Belgian nationality can slow down the referendum process.”


Pancrace-Cimpaye-300x219Pancrace Cimpaye: “It’s a masquerade!”

“How can you imagine that there is someone who can campaign to say ” No ”? It’s making fun of people. “The spokesperson for the opposition platform in exile-CNARED wondered how to fight the campaign while political opponents are either in exile or in prison for their opinions.

“It’s a masquerade. Today, we are in a state terrorism where the opposition is deprived of its rights. “For Pancrace Cimpaye, there is no condition that can justify the holding of a referendum. The only way to end this crisis, he continues, is to get together around a negotiation table between the party that violated the Arusha Agreement and the one defending it. “Organizing a referendum, burying the Arusha Accord, putting in place a new constitution and proclaiming Nkurunziza president for life will only exacerbate the already worrying situation.”

Gabriel-RufyiriGabriel Rufyiri: “All the people cannot have the same thought.”

According to the President of the corruption watchdog-OLUCOME, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of Burundi guarantee freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. These are internationally recognized and protected rights by all states including Burundi. If an authority can arrogate to himself the right to say that no one has the right to say No to the referendum, that is serious. It is flouting the two texts. For Mr. Rufyiri, the 12 million Burundians cannot have the same thought. “It’s impossible. It’s a dream that will never come true. ”

Aimé Magera, the FNL party spokesmanAimé Magera: “They will not make it”

“The Secretary-General of the ruling party has no arguments. Who is he to substitute himself for the executive? He wants to deceive people and surprise the population. “According to the pro-Rwasa FNL spokesman, the attitude of the government does not surprise him.” What is the meaning given to a referendum when only a few people are concerted without taking into account the point of view of the population? “For him, a consultation to change the Constitution should first be preceded by a stabilization of the country if it is necessary.” More than 450,000 refugees outside their country should be a concern for a normal government. ”

According to Aimé Magera, the population is determined to demonstrate its political maturity. “We will use all legal means to block this project. We recommend the population to remain calm and upright. They will fail as in the past. ”

KEFA-NIBIZI-290x300Kefa Nibizi: “It responds to the demands of the population”

The president of FRODEBU Nyakuri says that during the meetings held in Gitega and at Hotel Source du Nil, political parties had asked for the amendment to the Constitution, what was the same with the inter-Burundian dialogue initiated by the National Commission for the Inter-Burundian Dialogue (CNDI).

For him, this bill meets the aspirations of the people. He recognizes that the President of the Republic has full power to propose amendments. “We, too, have not been consulted but we have no legal basis to challenge the project.”

For Kefa Nibizi, campaigning for or against the referendum is an absolute right for every Burundian. He also reveals that his party will participate in the new dismemberment of the National Independent Electoral Commission-CENI.

Mr Nibizi demands that all authorized political parties be allowed to hold a campaign for or against the referendum. However, he refrains from commenting on the choice of his party. “It is still too early. Let’s wait for the end of the government campaign,” he said.

Gilbert Bécaud NjangwaGilbert Bécaud Njangwa: “It’s the people who have the last word.”

For those who say that the political climate is not conducive to the revision of the Constitution, the legal representative of the local civil society (Onelope-Burundi) is not of this opinion. “It’s a bad appreciation of some people. There are shortcomings that need to be changed in the 2005 constitution.”

For him, this is not a matter of debate today. “It’s the people who will decide.” He urges political parties to take ownership of this project and explain it to their followers. “They have the choice to vote yes or no.”

Mr. Njangwa finds that there are some provisions in the new draft that scare political parties that have few members. He gives the example of the suppression of independent coalitions. “This provision will help in the stabilization of parties.” This civil society activist denies that there are opposition activists who are mistreated on the ground.

Written by Fabrice Manirakiza and translated by Pierre Emmanuel Ngendakumana