Burundi opposition denounces election commission

Burundi opposition denounces election commission

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's opposition late Friday slammed the election commission for steering the country towards a controversial presidential vote next month, branding it a tool of President Pierre Nkurunziza and his ruling party.

The appointment of two new members to the national election commission (CENI) was "a government-orchestrated sham to put in place a CENI totally subservient to Nkurunziza and his party", said Jeremie Minani, spokesman for the Arusha Movement coalition of opposition and civil society groups.

The criticism came after the upper and lower houses of parliament -- both dominated by the ruling CNDD-FDD party -- overwhelmingly approved new election commissioners to replace two who fled the country amid a political crisis and street protests that have unsettled Burundi since late April when Nkurunziza announced his third-term bid.

Annonciate Niyonkuru and Alice Nijimbere, both 38-year old women from the Tutsi ethnic minority, took up their posts immediately.

The appointment of the new CENI members follows opposition complaints that without a full complement of commissioners the election body was not legitimate.

Nevertheless, the election commission late Friday went ahead and approved all eight candidates who put themselves forward for the presidential poll, including Nkurunziza and his leading opponent Agathon Rwasa.

"All eight applications submitted to CENI by candidates for the presidential election on July 15 were validated yesterday. None were rejected," said election commission spokesperson Prosper Ntahorwamiye.

Parliamentary elections are slated for June 29 and a presidential poll on July 15, after being delayed following weeks of street demonstrations, a violent police crackdown and a failed coup attempt by a section of the army.

Despite being cleared to contest the election Rwasa is keeping open the possibility of an opposition boycott, his spokesman Francois Bizimana, said.

"Agathon Rwasa will be a candidate if the conditions for a credible and inclusive elections are met," said Bizimana, listing the withdrawal of Nkurunziza, improved security and respect for the rule of law and the election law as necessary conditions for a free and fair election. "At this stage, it appears these conditions are not being met," Bizimana said, but stopped short of calling for a boycott.

In a statement the CNDD-FDD welcomed the approval of Nkurunziza as a presidential candidate and appealed to opposition parties not to pull out of the election.

Rwasa, like Nkurunziza a former Hutu rebel, is considered the strongest single opposition candidate.

Since surviving a coup attempt last month Nkurunziza has faced down international pressure, including a string of foreign aid cuts, aimed at forcing him to reconsider his attempt to stay in power, which diplomats fear could plunge the country back into war.

Although Burundi's constitutional court ruled his third-term bid legal, opponents and critics say that it goes against both the constitution and the 2006 Arusa peace deal that ended 13-years of civil war.

Around 40 people have died and scores more have been injured in weeks of unrest, mostly in the capital Bujumbura, since late April while more than 100,000 people have fled the country.