Burundi’s cabinet has backed a constitutional amendment that would keep President Pierre Nkurunziza in office to 2034.
Burundi's cabinet backed a constitutional change that would allow its president to stay in office until 2034, widening a political rift that has driven the country progressively deeper into crisis.
Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, won re-election in July 2015 in a ballot that critics said violated the constitution and the terms of an agreement that ended a previous rebellion.
The cabinet adopted the draft legislation seeking to amend the constitution on Tuesday, a senior government official told Reuters on Friday.
If the amendment was passed by parliament, "the current head of state can rule until 2034," the source said.
Nkurunziza's backers said the country's constitutional court had cleared him to run again, but some opponents took up arms against his rule and insecurity has plagued the country since.
Under existing laws, Burundian presidents are limited to two five-year terms.
The Burundian bill
Proposed amendments under the Burundian bill seek to abolish the two-term limit and lengthen presidential terms to seven years.
Incumbents would be able to serve two consecutive terms of seven years each and also be eligible to seek re-election after an interregnum.
The government would hold a referendum on the draft legislation next year, but did not say which month, a second official told Reuters.
Critics of legislation
Opposition officials have criticised the legislation which they say was initiated in secrecy and designed to entrench Nkurunziza in power.
"No one knew what was being done. It was done in total secrecy...we will always oppose it," deputy president of the opposition FRODEBU party, Leonce Ngendakumana, told Reuters.
"The constitution should not be revised in a tense social climate."
Violence in Burundi
Unrest has gripped the country since April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a third term.
The clashes have killed hundreds, left the economy moribund and forced about 400,000 people to seek safety in neighbouring countries.
UN rights investigators and independent activists have accused government forces of widespread violations including forced disappearances, and of orchestrating a campaign of terror.
Other African leaders have in the recent past also tinkered with or defied their constitutions to extend their rule, including Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila.