Four possible outcomes of Burundi’s controversial elections

Burundi’s government, led by two-term President Nkurunziza has gone ahead to hold presidential elections today despite stiff opposition from rival parties, a huge segment of the public and the international community. Nkurunziza’s obstinate desire to remain power has seen him flout the constitutional stipulation of “two terms only” with the logic that he was elected into his first term by MPs and not the public. The constitutional court backed the president’s logic, it was always expected to– since the president tightly controls every arm of the government, and the public erupted with protests. A coup happened, failed badly, and Nkurunziza strengthened his resolve to contest in the elections, and even refused to postponed it until the political issues are fully resolved.

The election is now on course, accompanied by gunshots and explosions– attempts to sabotage the polls, the government says. Four opposition candidates have pulled out including the main rival Agathon Rwasa. Their names are still on the ballot papers regardless, but not many people are coming out to cast their votes. The country virtually has more people scared than eager to vote. A thousand people are fleeing to Tanzania daily, over 20 thousand are already in Rwanda and nearly 200,000 people are now refugees. Many are leaving out of fear of the Imbonerakure– the ruling party’s youth wing that has been likened to the Rewandan genocidal Interahamwe for its attacks on perceived opponents of the government. So here are the four possible outcome of the elections; the first is certain, Nkurunziza will win with a massive majority, there is no doubt about that. So let’s move on to the next three:

The opposition will finally back down and accept the status quo:

Following Nkurunziza’s expected victory, he will most likely increase his clampdown on those who oppose him and double his dismissive attitude towards the urgings of the international community. The activists and political rivals, worn out by their failure to unseat the sit-tight president, may resign to their fate and crawl back into their shells or speed off to foreign lands for political asylum. The international community may, as it has often done just keep talking for talk sake, but do nothing else. This outcome is highly unlikely. While the President will most certainly raise his game of oppression, and the international community most likely to continue its ineptitude, it is less probable that the opposition– made up of a public that is fed up with poverty and corruption, activists angered by the pervasive disregard for human rights and political rivals desperate for their own share of government control– will back down. This leads to the second possible outcome:

The opposition will not back down, which will lead to increased violence:

The violence has already begun, and not even the quelling of the coup in May managed to stop it. There are already clashes between protesters and government supporters that have caused dead bodies to turn up in the street. Given that the country’s civil war scars are still fresh and that the divisions along ethnic lines are still deep, Nkurunziza’s hang on to power may ignite another war. The international crisis group says the crisis has all the ingredients to kick-start another civil war. In May it wrote: “In this climate of fear and uncertainty several scenarios are possible for Burundi’s immediate future, ranging from the highly improbable withdrawal of President Nkurunziza’s candidacy, to the significantly more dangerous path toward a more or less violent, and intractable, conflict. But he can avoid this violent conflict and lead his country to a third possible outcome.

Upon winning Nkurunziza negotiates with the opposition and stops his party’s political oppression:

Nkurunziza could, realizing the illegitimacy of his rule, seek constructive negotiations with the opposition and international community and make genuine concessions to the demanded reforms. Stopping the oppression been wrought by his supporters through the security forces and his party’s Imbonerakure will be a great first step. The end resolution could be a Government of National Unity, Mugabe-Tsvangirai style, accompanied with electoral cum political reform that entrenches true democracy as against his facade for totalitarianism that it is at the moment. Bottomline, the President would make huge personal and political sacrifices for the interest of his fragile country and its suffering people. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely to happen. Nkurunziza, a self acclaimed born again Christian, sees himself as the messiah of Burundi on whom rests the divine mandate to guarantee peace, stability and prosperity, features that his country has had none of under his rule.

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