English Africa Service – Vatican City
“From the observations made, we recognise that the elections generally took place in a calm atmosphere. However, we deplore the many irregularities with regard to the freedom and transparency of the electoral process along with the lack of fairness in the treatment of certain candidates and voters,” said the Bishops of Burundi in a joint pastoral statement they all signed.
Church’s observers were placed at strategic locations
The Bishops said they had deployed 2 716 of their own observers to various polling stations in the small landlocked country of the Great Lakes region. Though they were not able to cover all polling stations, the Bishops say they were strategic in the deployment assigning observers to key polling points. The damning assessment of the Bishops is based on initial reports filed by the observers. A much more detailed report will probably be issued eventually.
A catalogue of irregularities
In the statement, the Bishops listed a catalogue of irregularities.
“Among irregularities, we particularly deplore (are the following):
The pressure exerted on individual proxies to sign in advance papers of the contents of the ballot boxes;
the stuffing of some ballot boxes;
voting in place of deceased persons and refugees;
multiple therefore invalid proxies;
the fact that in some polling stations, there were voters who voted more than once;
the exclusion of officers and observers from places where the votes were being counted;
intimidation and constraints exerted on voters by certain administrators who accompanied them to the voting booths;
the intrusion of unauthorised persons into the places where the votes are counted;
the lack of privacy for those voting not being guaranteed everywhere;
and the confiscation of accreditation and telephones of certain observers.
Faced with all these irregularities and many others, we wonder how these wont prejudice the definitive results to be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court on 4 June,” said the Bishops.
Bishops urge citizens to remain calm
Notwithstanding their reservations, the Bishops urged calm and for people not resort to violence. They encouraged losers to seek redress from the courts.
Burundi’s electoral commission has since declared General Evariste Ndayishimiye, of the ruling party winner of the presidential election with 68% of the votes. Agathon Rwasa of the opposition National Council for Liberty (CNL) had 24%
Ndayishimiye will be sworn-in as president in August for a seven-year term, renewable once
Relations between Church and state have been tense since 2015
Relations between the Church and state have been tense ever since the outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza, plunged the country into a major constitutional crisis in 2015 by running for an unconstitutional third term.
According to a new Burundian law, had he wished, Nkurunziza could have potentially stayed on as leader of this country of 11 million up to 2034.
The Catholic Church leadership in the country and rights groups have frequently denounced political violence and intolerance. More than 1 200 people have died in the aftermath of the 2015 crisis while about 400,000 Burundians have fled the country.
Retired President Nkurunziza’s Presidential spokesperson, Willy Nyamitwe once said that some Burundian Bishops needed to be defrocked for preaching what he termed as hatred.