Burundians vote in parliamentary polls

BUJUMBURA: Burundians are voting in parliamentary elections marked by an opposition boycott and the threat of violence as police battle anti-government protesters in the capital.

Gunfire and at least one grenade explosion could be heard in some parts of Bujumbura as voting started at 6:00am today, said witnesses. There is heavy security across the city.

In the Musaga neighborhood, which has seen violent protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, few civilians were seen at the polls as mostly police and soldiers lined up to vote. No one was injured when a grenade exploded in the middle of the main road in Musaga, sending residents scampering for safety, said witness Pacifque Irabona.

About 3.8 million people are expected to vote, according to the electoral commission, but it appears a boycott by 17 opposition groups will keep the turnout low, especially in Bujumbura.

The voting is taking place despite calls by the international community for a postponement until there is a peaceful environment for credible elections. The African Union said yesterday that it would not observe the polls because the necessary conditions have not been met for free and fair elections.

Despite international pressure, Nkurunziza’s government insists that an indefinite postponement of the elections would create a dangerous political vacuum that might cause even more chaos.

Bujumbura has suffered unrest since the ruling party announced on April 26 that Nkurunziza would be its candidate in presidential elections scheduled for July 15.

Nkurunziza’s supporters say he is eligible for a third term because he was chosen by lawmakers — and not popularly elected — for his first term, and the constitutional court has ruled in the president’s favour.

The street protests boiled over in mid-May, leading to an attempted military coup that was put down quickly.