Burundian authorities have begun to compile a new electoral roll in preparation for a constitutional referendum in May that would enable President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for two more terms beginning in 2020.
The Burundian National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) has not yet set an exact date for the referendum, as it is awaiting a presidential decree from Nkurunziza.
The referendum also proposes an extension of the presidential term from five years to seven, meaning that Nkurunziza would be able to retain power until 2034. It also provides for the creation of a prime minister position and a reduction from two vice presidents to one.
After a violent civil war left more than 300,000 dead, the Parliament of Burundi appointed Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, president in 2005. He won the 2010 presidential election, the first after the war, uncontested.
While Nkurunziza’s supporters portray him as a man of the people whose actions promote the Burundian public good, he has also amassed a significant resistance. More than 40 opposition parties have sprouted-up as a result of his presidency, and human rights groups have labeled him a dictator hungry for power.
Opposition leaders also derided the 2010 election as a farce, unrepresentative of a fair election.“It was a joke. We do not accept anything,” said Pancrace Cimpaye, a spokesman for the opposition Front for Democracy party, following Nkurunziza’s election in 2010.
The opposition again boycotted the 2015 elections in which Nkurunziza won with almost 70 percent of the vote. Because holding office for three consecutive terms is currently unconstitutional, the country spiraled into a period of instability and violence after his election. His supporters, however, have argued that his appointment by Parliament for his first term does not count towards the constitutional limit.
The situation has since grown more volatile. Police have threatened to arrest anyone who campaigns against the referendum, broadcasting a video on national television and posting it on the website of the national radio station. At least 50 activists have already been arrested for canvassing and warning about the outcomes of voting “Yes.”
Past the referendum, Burundi’s economic status also jeopardizes the country’s political stability. Third-party donors such as the EU funded the 2015 presidential election but have already communicated their unwillingness to do so again due to Nkurunziza’s rule. As a result, Burundian officials have laid-out a plan for citizens to each pay 200 francs ($1.14) to fund the 2020 election.
Burundian gross national income per capita amounts to the equivalent of only $280 per year. With almost 65 percent of the population living in poverty, the situation threatens to devolve further as a result of Nkurunziza’s controversial presidency and citizens’ precarious economic status.