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File picture of the Bishops of Burundi on an ad limina visit File picture of the Bishops of Burundi on an ad limina visit 

Burundi’s Referendum: Bishops call for peace regardless of outcome

The people of Burundi voted Thursday in a referendum that could essentially allow President Nkurunziza to possibly remain in power until 2034. The nation’s Catholic Bishops recently expressed displeasure with the poll.

Festus Tarawalie and Paul Samasumo –Vatican city.

Referendum proposes changes to presidential term limits

The East African country of Burundi voted Thursday in a referendum that proposes changes to the country’s presidential term limits. If the ruling party gets its way, Burundi, one of the smallest countries in Africa, could see its President, Pierre Nkurunziza, get an additional 14 years when his current term of office ends in 2020. This would allow Nkurunziza to possibly remain in power until 2034.

The proposed amendments would change presidential terms from five years to seven and would allow the ruling party the power to remove an elected member of parliament guilty of breaking the country’s laws and constitution.

For a bill to pass the legislature, it would need the approval of a simple majority from the county’s lawmakers, under the proposed changes.

Catholic Bishops expressed displeasure with the referendum

In an radio interview with Vatican News’ French Africa Service, Bishop Joachim Ntahondereye of the Diocese of Muyinga and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi reiterated the message of the Bishops contained in a pastoral statement of 2 May 2018. In the statement, the Bishops expressed displeasure with the referendum proposal, saying this is not the right time for such a vote. Given that the vote has taken place Thursday, the Bishops plea has gone unheeded.

"Many citizens are living in fear, even if they don't say this openly, and don't dare say what they think for fear of reprisals," the Bishops' conference said in the statement.

The proposed reform of the Constitution, according to the Bishops, goes against the Constitutional Charter itself. They said Article 299 of the current Constitution states that no revision can be applied if it undermines national unity; the cohesion of the Burundian people or the reconciliation process.

Bishops call for unity and peace regardless of referendum outcome

The Bishops said that instead of uniting Burundians, the process leading towards the draft constitution has exacerbated differences, and left citizens polarised. They insist that this is not the appropriate moment for changes to the Constitution.

The prelates of Burundi further reiterated that the Catholic Church had a mission to foster "unity, concord and peace". Nonetheless, they have also said whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, “what matters is that Burundians remain united and should be concerned with safeguarding peace and trying to advance democracy”.

17 May 2018, 19:10