Vote for new constitution kicks off in Burundi

By The Eastafrican

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Burundians have started voting for or against the amendment of the country’s constitution by ticking in a YES box to amend or NO box not to amend the 2005 constitution.

In the eve of the polls there was visibly beefed up security in the streets of the country’s capital, Bujumbura.

Before the sunrise, voters had already started queuing in the ruling party’s National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD) strong hold Kamenge in Bujumbura.

“We are here to exercise our rights and the new constitution will be able to bring unity and stability in the country,” said Kitegesi Janvier a kamenge resident who was among the first to cast their vote.

The country had last amended the constitution in 2005 when the incumbent president Pierre Nkurnziza took the office.

The current constitution had been on the centre stage of the political crisis that erupted in 2015 after president Nkurunziza vied for another term which critics say violated the country’s constitution.

“Despite all the intimidation threats and everything people will decide of their own destiny, because this is not the first time there is a big challenge in 1961, 1993, 2005 and even today,” Burundi opposition leader Agathon Rwasa told The EastAfrican before leaving for Ngozi his home village to cast his vote.

Agathon Rwasa who is currently the deputy speaker of the parliament is among the opposition leaders who were campaigning against the constitution amendment.

He however criticized opposition members outside the country who were calling on Burundians to boycott the referendum.

“You cannot be called a true opposition when you are outside the country for us here we really understand the real issues and challenges Burundians are facing so boycott is not a right thing.”

Among the articles that are most likely to be amended other than the presidential term limit is Article 49 that indicates that a Burundian can be extradited abroad if he is prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for genocide crimes, war crimes or other crimes against humanity.

If amended no Burundian can be extradited according to the draft constitution article 50.

The international community had criticized the Burundi government’s move to conduct a referendum at time when the regional mediated dialogue is yet to come to an end, however Burundi government and ruling supporters believe that the referendum will guarantee peace and stability.