Burundi opposition leader Agathon Rwasa said a presidential election must be held by August at the latest, but a fair vote was unlikely without security and a free media.
A planned June 26 poll looks increasingly untenable after more than a month of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. Parliamentary and local elections have already been postponed due to the unrest in which more than 30 people have been killed, according to activists.
Burundi emerged from an ethnically fuelled civil war in 2005, and the crisis has stirred fears of a new bout of violent instability in Africa’s Great Lakes region. The country has a similar ethnic make-up to neighbouring Rwanda, where 800,000 people died in a 1994 genocide.
Rwasa, a presidential candidate and, like Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, told Reuters in an interview that it was essential to have an elected government in place by Aug. 26, when the president’s current term ends.
“There is no room for a transitional government. We will have to comply with the constitution. We knew ahead of these elections that we should hold it so that we can have a newly elected president, and MPs and so on, by August this year,” Rwasa said.
Election commission CENI said on Wednesday it was delaying the local and parliamentary votes and was working on a new schedule. It made no mention of the presidential election.
Opponents say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term would violate the constitution and the Arusha peace deal that ended the 12-year civil war. Both stipulate no one should be president for longer than 10 years.
Nkurunziza’s backers argue that his first term should not count since he was picked by lawmakers rather than voted in. He has shown no signs of backing down, citing a court ruling that says he can run.
Burundi is facing its worst crisis since the civil war that pitted the army, which was then led by the Tutsi minority, against rebel Hutu groups, one of which was led by Nkurunziza and another by Rwasa.
Rwasa also called for the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD, to be disarmed. The ruling party denies claims the group acts as a militia.
“I think it isn’t easy to succeed in disarming these Imbonerakure within a few weeks’ time and we cannot even rely on the police as defence forces who are under the command of Pierre Nkurunziza. We cannot expect them to do that task.”
He said international partners should help disarm them, but did not elaborate.
“Given the fact that Nkurunziza cannot, then we have to call for an international force. And I am sure that partners of Burundi may contribute to that.”
Rwasa said it was important to rebuild the country’s media. Independent private radio stations have been shut and their equipment damaged in the unrest. The government has said it is investigating the attacks.
“The media must be rehabilitated so that people can know what is happening in the country,” Rwasa said.
He reiterated that the president should give up his bid for a third term.
“Once Nkurunziza will give up his selfish interests and think big, then we can hope that it is easy to schedule a free and fair election in a very short time.”