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Africa

Burundi’s parliamentary poll kicks off on a slow note

Voting is underway in Burundi’s controversial poll that is marred with violence and boycotts. More than 100 MPs from 18 provinces are expected to be elected in a vote that has been shadowed by weeks of protests.

Despite overnight attacks on several polling stations, Burundians have defied all odds to exercise their voting rights. The turnout was unexpectedly low and voters formed long queues as early as six o’clock in the morning, according to DW correspondent in Bujumbura, Apollinaire Niyirora.

"Security was tight at every entry point and every one had to be checked before entering a polling station to cast their ballots," Niyirora added.

Only local observers were seen at certain polling stations. Even before the voting, the polls have been criticized by local and international community. The African Union has pulled its election observers out of the country, saying that the vote would be neither free nor fair.

The main opposition and civil society organizations have called their members to not participate in the polls. Speaking to DW in Bujumbura, a University student Gerard Niyibaruta and also a member of the opposition said he is not going to vote.

"The main reason is that these elections have not been organized quite well, which mean that there are some political parties that have been excluded from organizing those very elections," Niyibaruta said.

This feeling was echoed by a civil society activist Jocelyne Keza. She said she was not prepared to vote for people who had done little for the community.

"I know that we have that right to elect and as a woman it is great. But while exercising your right, you cannot do it blindly or without any reason," Keza said. "Now we need leaders; it's my responsibility to elect someone with good projects for the citizens," she added.

But some Burundians view this as an opportunity for them to go and vote for a change. Henri Ndayisaba is from an area of Bujumbura, which was free of any protest.

"I need to see new faces in parliament and in local administration. That's why I must go to vote in order to change faces in parliament and faces in local administration," Ndayisaba said.

Boycott: ‘A miscalculation?'

Speaking to DW on whether the boycott will add value to the opposition, Yolande Bouka, an expert on Burundi at the Institution for Security Studies said the boycotts were meant for the international community to intervene and declare that the electoral process is illegitimate.

"This is what happened in 2010 when the opposition boycotted the elections and unfortunately it was a miscalculation on their part," Bouka argued.

Back then the international community still went ahead and legitimized the validity of the electoral process.

Today the international community, the East African community and the African Union "have called on the Burundian government to postpone the elections until the conditions on the ground were suitable for peaceful elections," Bouka added.

But the Burundian government has ignored these calls and decided to go ahead with the planned elections.

"At this point a boycott is unlikely to change the decision of the ruling party to maintain the lections, to argue that those elections aren't legitimate," Bouka noted.

Burundi is holding parliamentary elections while violence is mounting. Just two days before the vote three people were killed in the country's capital Bujumbura. Some high level officials including the second Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri and the Speaker of the National Assembly Pie Ntavyohanyuma have left the country fearing for their lives.

More than 100 MPs from 18 provinces are expected to be elected in a controversial vote that have been shadowed by weeks of protests.

Apollinaire Niyirora in Bujumbura contributed to this article.

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