UN observers in Burundi yesterday described the country’s recent parliamentary and local elections as “not free” or “not credible,” amid high tensions after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza ignored recommendations to delay the polls, the Guardian has reported.
According the UN electoral observer mission, the elections were carried out in a highly violent atmosphere. They went ahead despite being widely boycotted and warnings from many international authorities including UN secretary Ban Ki-moon to postpone them.
“Episodes of violence and explosions preceded and in some cases accompanied election day activities, mostly in Bujumbura,” the UN electoral observers said in a nine-page report.
The electoral environment was referred to as “not conducive for free, credible and inclusive elections,” in the report.
During clashes in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, six people belonging to both opposition groups and the police were killed on Wednesday.
The clashes took place in the morning in the city’s Cibitoke district in the outskirts of the capital. The area is a main hub for activism against President Pierre Nkurunziza and his disputed bid for a third term.
Police have claimed that five of those killed Wednesday were "criminals,” unlike the residents, who stated police shot citizens who had "their hands in the air" during house-to-house searches.
Belgium declared it would not recognise the outcome of the results of the elections, which were boycotted by opposition groups, while US State Department spokesman John Kirby urged Nkurunziza to delay the polls.
Kirby asked Nkurunziza to consider the freedom of Burundians over his personal ambitions.
“This solution should include the delay of the July 15 presidential elections until conditions are in place for free, fair and peaceful elections,” Kirby said.
Election campaigners from the ruling party were visible in Burundi while the opposition groups had a weak presence, according to the UN observers.
The UN report also included accusations of media restrictions and journalists being targeted with attacks and detentions.
Despite the opposition boycotting the polls and the US withdrawing its support, the elections proceeded on time.
Parliamentary elections were held on Monday and a presidential vote on July 15 will take place after being pushed forward from an initial date of June 26.
Burundi has been hit by weeks of civil unrest as the country’s opposition wants Nkurunziza to withdraw his bid for a third-term presidency which is widely considered to violate the Burundi's constitution and the Arusha Accords, a peace deal that ended over a decade long ethnic civil war in 2005.
Burundi’s constitution limits the presidency to two terms in office, but Nkurunziza's supporters say he can run again because he was elected to his first term by lawmakers rather than the public.
More than 70 people have been killed in months of violence and a failed coup was sparked by Nkurunziza's bid to stay in power.
Several top officials - including the deputy vice-president Gervais Rufyikiri as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court - have also fled the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.
The African Union has refused to send observers to the polls as the "necessary conditions are not met for the organisation of free, fair, transparent and credible elections."
Almost four million people are registered to vote in the elections, but opposition parties are boycotting the polls, as they did in 2010, claiming that it is not possible for a fair vote to be held.
Civil society groups backed the boycott in a joint statement calling on voters to skip the "sham elections" and urged the international community "not to recognise the validity" of the polls.
"This is nothing new in Burundi," election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye said on Sunday. "In Africa, boycott is another way of doing politics."
A month ago, UNHCR and its partners appealed for $207 million in assistance for more than 150,000 Burundian refugees, but have so far received just 13 percent of that amount.