Voters in Burundi have backed a constitutional referendum that could prolong president Pierre Nkurunziza’s term in office until 2034.
The electoral commission in late Monday (May 22) said over 73% of the 4.7 million voters supported amendments that increased the current five-year presidential term limits from five to seven. Nineteen percent also rejected the constitutional revisions that also scraped one of two vice presidential posts and granted more powers to the president.
The new provisions will now allow Nkurunziza to seek two more terms, beginning in 2020. A former rebel leader, the 54-year-old leader was elected as the country’s first post-civil war president in 2005. But since announcing he would run for a third term in 2015, the east African nation has been plunged into a political crisis that has cost the lives of more than 1,200 people. Earlier this year, the ruling party bestowed him the title of “eternal supreme guide.”
Opposition leaders have already said they will not accept the results, dubbing it “a parody” and “a fantasy.” The United States also criticized the referendum, saying it was marred by voter intimidation and lack of transparency.
Rights groups have documented cases of intimidation, arrests, and threats by security forces in the year and a half leading up to the referendum. Victims were targeted for refusing to register to vote or for just not belonging to the ruling party. Others were also singled out for refusing to contribute funds to finance the polls: as one of the poorest countries in the world, Burundi has been trying to crowdfund its elections to replace the dwindling external funding. Last November, the International Criminal Court authorized opening an investigation into allegations of torture and killings in the country, even though Burundi had withdrawn from the court.
Across Africa, Nkurunziza is hardly the only president trying to extend term limits in order to protract his stay in power. In the last decade, presidents from Chad to Djibouti, Rwanda, Cameroon, and Togo have all voted to remove term limits.