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BURUNDI

East African Community leaders have no leverage on Nkurunziza, analyst

The empty chair of President Nkurunziza during the EAC meetin in Dar es Salaam on 31 May 2015.
The empty chair of President Nkurunziza during the EAC meetin in Dar es Salaam on 31 May 2015. AFP / DANIEL HAYDUK

East African leaders meeting in Dar es Salaam have urged Burundi's government to delay  the country's upcoming elections by at least a month. They stopped short of calling for Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon his controversial bid for a third consecutive term in office. “The EAC has no leverage on Nkurunziza. They are a bit useless in this sense” says a British expert.

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Heads of state from the East African Community met in the Tanzanian capital on Sunday to discuss the ongoing turmoil in Burundi after Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term sparked weeks of civil unrest, a failed coup attempt and a refugee crisis.

But according to Benjamin Chemouni, a Burundi expert with the London School of Economics, the EAC's reluctance to pressure Nkurunziza not to run, is no surprise.

“We should keep in mind that, Rwandan President Paul Kagame “himself would like to change his own constitution in order to run for a third term” he notes. “I think they are quite uneasy with this idea of enforcing the constitution. All that matters to them is more stability rather than the rule of the law.”

The Burundian government immediatly reacted to the news, with a spokesperson saying it was open to the idea of delaying upcoming elections.

Parliamentary polls are currently scheduled to take place on June 5, while presidential polls are planned for June 26.

But opponents are still asking President Nkurunziza not to run for a third consecutive five-year term in office, something that opposition and rights groups say violates the constitution.

“We have always asked for the elections to be postponed, so that we can at least have optimal conditions for democratic elections” opponent Agathon Rwasa, who announced his candidacy to the presidency, last month, told RFI.

“I agree with them on that, but as long as there’s no comment on his third term, we remain unsatisfied” Rwasa added. “In a month and a half, we’ll need to ensure the safety of citizens and opponents. What we could do is bring a force that can supervise the elections, since the police will be incapable of doing so.”

The opposition reacted on Sunday by calling protesters to return to the streets.

Experts say delaying the elections by just a month and a half will not solve the Burundian crisis.

“He will still be in a strong position and it’s still acceptable for him,” said Chemouni.

Protests and police violence are still rocking the nation and more than 90,000 refugees are still locked out of Burundi.

Many experts feel the response of the East African Community could have been stronger, but Chemouni says democracy is not a priority.

“The EAC doesn’t want to be seen as meddling with sovereign issues, all they want is a stable Burundi, even if it’s not a democratic Burundi” notes Chemouni.

The country has only been stable since 2006, after the end of a 13-year civil war.

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