Burundi president will run for third term in June, government warns protesters to stay off the streets

Pressure groups have called for the president to "take a lesson" from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza will bid for a third term in June elections, his spokesman said Sunday, defying campaigners who say such a move would violate the constitution and risk violence.

Nkurunziza will stand if selected to run by his ruling CNDD-FDD party “in compliance with the constitution” said spokesman Willy Nyamitwe.

The announcement follows the launch of a campaign by over 300 civil society groups earlier this month calling on Nkurunziza not to run for a third term to “prevent further violence.”

The group called for the president to “take a lesson” from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly protests broke out in January over opposition fears that President Joseph Kabila was trying to extend his stay in power. 

In DR Congo, the protests left more than 40 people dead, but in the end the country’s senators blocked Kabila’s bid to extend his term, at least for now.

But Nyamitwe warned that anyone seeking to spark protests would face the law.

“Whoever calls on people to take to the streets… will be considered a troublemaker and will be treated as such,” he said.

“The people of Burundi aspire to peace and [we] will not stand idly by in this case.”

In Burundi, rights groups have warned of growing fears of the risk of violence ahead of elections, with a string of attacks including a five-day battle last month between the army and rebels.

The country’s political climate remains fractious ahead of local, parliamentary and presidential polls in May and June.

Opposition politicians and critics say the government is doing all it can to sideline political challengers ahead of the elections, including arrests, harassment and a clampdown on free speech.

Nkurunziza has always been clear that he aspires to serve a third term.

Burundi’s constitution only allows a president to be elected twice—for a total of 10 years in power—but Nkurunziza argues he has only been directly elected by the people once.

For his first term, beginning in 2005, he was selected by parliament.

Third-term bids are a mixed bag in Africa. Three countries in Africa have seen presidents try and fail to remove term limits—Nigeria, under Olusegun Obasanjo, Zambia under Frederick Chiluba and Malawi under Bakili Muluzi. 

These leaders came to power in the 1990s, riding on the “democratic wave” that was sweeping Africa. But once elected, it seems the fruits of power were too sweet to let go.

Still, the odds favour success in repealing the law to allow African Big Men to remain in power, particularly if - like Nkurunziza - the have already stayed a long time.

Eleven countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, Niger, Togo, Uganda, Algeria and Djibouti have all seen term-limit laws repealed.

The majority of these leaders are veterans of African politics, and had been in power before the adoption of term-limiting constitutions in the 1990s.

The trends show that once the law is repealed, the incumbent president is almost guaranteed to win his third term.

But indications are that Nkurunziza may not even go through the formal process of changing the election laws through Parliament. If he wins - and he probably will - it would put Burundi in a constitutional dilemma, that carries the risk of the country re-descending into violence.

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