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Africa

Violence and boycott keep Burundians away from the polls

Few Burundians (most of whom were men in uniform) appeared at polling stations on Monday. The opposition boycotted the elections. The African Union withdrew its election observers and the EU threatened to suspend funds.

The people of Burundi voted for a new parliament on Monday, despite international calls for a postponement of the poll, following weeks of violent unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's insistence on running for a third term. The European Union said it was withdrawing its election observers because polling would only worsen the situation in the country. The EU also threatened to suspend aid to the country. Last week EU foreign ministers threatened to sanction individuals involved in the violence.

DW: What impact are such threats likely to have on the Burundian government?

Phil Clark: They have been impervious to the international pressure. There have been threats of the withdrawal of aid in the last few weeks. There have been threats of election observers being removed and yet we have seen no change in the stance from President Nkurunziza. He has forged ahead to hold these parliamentary elections despite international criticism. The crackdown against media and political opponents has continued. Nothing has changed to date and I don't see him changing in the weeks to come.

Phil Clark is a lecturer in international politics at SOAS in London

Clark says it is rare that the AU makes strong statements like the once it sent to Burundi

It is not only the EU which believes these elections won't be free and fair, the African Union is also keeping its observers away. Why is the AU doing this?

The AU has been saying very consistently for the last few weeks that Nkurunziza needs to stabilize the situation before the elections can be held. It is very rare in fact for the AU to make such a strong statement, but they have been criticized in other African states in the past for not making these kinds of statements. Their worry is that the elections will escalate what is already a very volatile situation that could lead to increased violence and an increased death toll. So the AU is extremely worried by what is happening in Burundi at the moment.

Why did the government refuse to postpone not just the parliamentary elections but also the presidential elections in two weeks time?

Nkurunziza's worry seems to be that if he drags out the electoral period it can only embolden the opposition. At the the moment, the Burundian opposition is heavily divided. There are all manner of leaders, all kinds of factions and parties who can't really get their act together to contest the president. Nkurunziza, I think, wants to rush to the polls in a very volatile period, in the knowledge that the opposition is completely flattened and so this can only play to his advantage.

This would appear to be chiefly a political crisis. Is there the danger that it could escalate into an ethnic conflict?

So far, we haven't seen substantial ethnic-based violence in Burundi. That has been one of the really remarkable things in the last couple of months, that a country that had such a long civil war along ethnic lines has not gone back to that structure of violence in the last few weeks. My sense is that even if the violence does escalate in weeks to come which is increasingly likely, I would say - it probably still will not have an ethnic component. It will still largely be about an opposition to Nkurunziza as president and opposition to the form of draconian governance that he has put in place for the last ten years. The real antagonisms are towards him as an individual and to that style of presidency rather than any kind of ethnic antagonism.

Phil Clark is a lecturer in international politics at SOAS in London

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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