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Catholic Church slams Burundi election irregularities

Voter casts his ballot during elections at a polling station in Giheta, central Burundi, on 20 May 2020.
Voter casts his ballot during elections at a polling station in Giheta, central Burundi, on 20 May 2020. © AFP

Burundi’s Catholic Church has criticised the conduct of the country’s elections, as incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza prepares to hand over power to President-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye, both members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party. 

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“We regret lots of irregularities as to the freedom and transparency of the electoral process,” said the Burundi Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Ndayishimiye was elected with 68 per cent of the ballots in results announced on Monday, representing the first handover of power in 15 years. 

The church said it deployed 2,716 observers across the country to monitor the polls, according to a statement published on Tuesday. International election observer groups were  absent from the vote. 

The Burundi Conference of Catholic Bishops said the election was hampered by numerous problems including ballot box stuffing, fraudulent voting on behalf of deceased persons and refugees, as well as voters who cast more than one ballot. 

Burundian clergy said there was “pressure put on certain polling agents to sign in advance the tally sheets for counting the contents of the ballot boxes”, suggesting the possible fabrication of results. 

The church also said voters were intimidated and coerced by certain officials at polling stations who accompanied them to the polling booth. 

Burundi’s opposition has already criticised the polls, saying electoral fraud was planned in advance. 

Electoral registers at polling stations in some areas had had thousands of names added, according to Agathon Rwasa, flagbearer for the opposition CNL party, who took 24 per cent of the ballots in the announced results. 

The Burundi Conference of Catholic Bishops questioned whether irregularities on polling day prejudiced the results. 

The church urged people to refrain from violence, calling for disputes to be resolved through the proper channels. It also said the authorities should punish anyone persecuting people who might have voted a certain way. 

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