Referendum: “The die is cast”

On March 18, President Pierre Nkurunziza called his people to participate in the upcoming constitutional referendum. The calendar is now known. Some politicians see it as problematic.

: Burundians are invited to vote in the constitutional referendum due on May 17

: Burundians are invited to vote in the constitutional referendum due on May 17

The game is over. On May 17, more than 5 million registered voters are expected at polling stations. They will answer whether or not they want the revision of the Constitution.

Everything will follow on very quickly. Political parties and coalitions that want to campaign for or against this revision project started to register from March 23 until April 6. The launch of the campaign is scheduled two weeks before the referendum.

The opposition decries the constitutional referendum, which in its opinion calls into question the ongoing dialogue and the Arusha Agreement. But for the so-called internal opposition, there is no question of boycotting and letting this project pass like a letter to the post office. These political parties intend to engage in the game with Bujumbura. They fear, however, to not enjoy the same favors as the ruling party and its allies.

The absolute majority

The presidential decree provides that the revision of the Constitution to be adopted in the referendum by an absolute majority of the votes cast, i.e. a total of fifty percent plus one vote.

And if the population approves it, we will have a constitution completely revised. Of the 307 provisions of the Constitution, 77 have been amended, 9 new ones have been included and 3 removed.

The worst scenario, according to critics of the power in place is the likely candidacy of President Pierre Nkurunziza looming on the horizon as he can also stand as president in 2020 and even 2027 elections.


Agathon-Rwasa-600x451Agathon Rwasa determined to campaign

The leader of “Amizero y’Abarundi” coalition is determined to take part in the campaign. We will not boycott it. Agathon Rwasa deplores the harassment members of his coalition are suffering. He however says one must not give in to panic. “We must go all the way, meet the people to let them know our position and help them make a choice.”

Gaston SindimwoGaston Sindimwo: “Sanctions are planned”

The First Deputy-President of the Republic ensures that safety devices are put in place to ensure proper operation. “Those who have accreditations of the National Independent Electoral Commission-CENI will be able to conduct the campaign for or against the constitutional revision without worries. Gaston Sindimwo guarantees that grassroots administrators will facilitate the process. He promises sanctions against authorities that will go against the law.

Dr-Jean-Minani-député-Kirundo-300x259Jean Minani calls for boycott

The boss of the opposition platform in exile-CNARED calls for a boycott: “This is not a referendum, it is an evil trick”. According to Jean Minani, Bujumbura will deploy the Imbonerakure -youth wing affiliated to the ruling party- to force the population to vote. “Even if they vote no, Pierre Claver Ndayicariye will proclaim a victory of yes to 119%, but that will not change anything because for the vast majority of the Burundian people, there is no referendum,” he has said.

Kefa NibiziKefa Nibizi: “It’s up to the people to decide”

The Chairman of Sahwanya FRODEBU Nyakuri says his party will register in CENI to be allowed to campaign. To those who say that this is not the right time to proceed with the revision of the Constitution, Kefa Nibizi believes that it will be up to the people to decide. “They will vote yes or no, depending on whether they deem it necessary or not to proceed with the amendment”.

Box: What does the law on the referendum say?

According to the decree of 18 March convening voters for the constitutional referendum of 2018, the President of the Republic provides that the draft revision of the Constitution will be adopted if the absolute majority of votes cast, i.e. 50% + 1, approves it. The question of the competence of the Head of State to legislate on such an important subject is called into question.

Articles 198 and 298 of the Constitution give the President of the Republic the latitude to submit a constitutional project to a referendum.

The constitution remains however silent as to the quorum or the majority of votes necessary for a decision to be taken.

However, it does not give the President of the Republic the right to legislate on a matter that falls within the field of law, in Article 159.

One might think that the recent decree is unconstitutional. But what about the law of 3 June 2014 revising the law n ° 1/22 of 18 September 2009 on the electoral code?

In Article 203, it is stipulated: “If more than half of the votes cast approve the project, the President of the Republic proceeds, as the case may be, with the promulgation of the law, or with the conclusion of the Convention or the International Agreement, or upon signature of the decree taking note of the adoption.”

The electoral code in its Article 200 stipulates that the referendum is either optional or compulsory.


Did you say “credible”?

In countries where democracy is a reality, the referendum is a sort of thermometer that measures people’s adherence to the government and its programs. A way to see if the power is in sync with its population or if it is completely disconnected from reality. Bujumbura government could also seize this opportunity “to prove to the world that the majority of the population is committed to its cause”. The cards should be redistributed fairly.

Let those who want to oppose the project be treated the same way as the partisans of yes. There should be no harassment, call for reprisals or arbitrary imprisonment. There should be a clean campaign without magic tricks with black cards for no turned into white cards for yes.

The other challenge is the credibility of the ballot verdict. The country needs international observers to certify that people went on their own to vote and that the National Electoral Commission did its job properly. From the latest information, no foreign observers have so far announced their coming in the country. Burundi will be alone in the referendum. In such conditions, a problem of credibility arises.