DAR ES SALAAM – East African leaders have demanded Burundi delay a controversial presidential election by two weeks until July 30, after weeks of unrest and parliamentary polls internationally condemned for not being free and fair.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, who skipped the East African Community (EAC) summit in Tanzania to campaign for a third five-year term in office, has repeatedly rejected international criticism and calls for delays. The presidential vote is due on July 15.
EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni would now lead regional efforts to strike a deal, and that a delay would allow him time “to lead the dialogue.”
AFP reported that the crisis in the central African nation revolves around Nkurunziza’s third-term bid, which his opponents have called unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that brought an end to a dozen years of civil war in 2006.
Leaders of the five-nation East African Community had been due to meet Monday in Dar es Salaam, but Nkurunziza instead sent his foreign minister. Kenya and Rwanda were also represented at the ministerial level, leaving host Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Museveni the only presidents in attendance.
Nkurunziza, who stayed in Burundi to lead his presidential campaign, has previously dismissed all previous calls for poll delays.
The EAC, which said it would deploy election observers for the polls, also called on Burundi to disarm the youth wing of Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party — the Imbonerakure — as well as “other armed groups.”
It also called for unity among Burundi’s rival factions, calling for a government of national unity “irrespective of whoever wins the presidential election.”
Parliamentary and local elections held last week were boycotted by the opposition.
The UN electoral observer mission — the only international monitors at the June 29 elections — said the polls took place “in a climate of widespread fear and intimidation”. The results have yet to be released.
Over 70 people have been killed in more than two months of protests in Burundi, with almost 144,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.