Polls have opened for Burundi's controversial first round of parliamentary elections. Several top officials have fled and the African Union has stopped its monitoring mission, citing the impossibility of a fair vote.
Voting in the first round of parliamentary elections began in Burundi on Monday despite violence and international criticism undermining the credibility of the polls. Indeed, the African Union has pulled its election observers out of the country, saying that the vote would be neither free nor fair.
Several polling stations were attacked overnight in the capital of Bujumbura and surrounding provinces, though police reported the vandals failed to damage any important election materials.
Though polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. local time in Bujumbura, they were delayed by at least 30 minutes with state radio reporting longer delays in rural areas.
"Voting has not yet begun in many centers in the capital because election officials are trying to prepare materials and in almost all of the stations, these arrived late because of overnight attacks," said Cyriaque Bucumi, head of the capital's electoral commission, to French news agency AFP.
As voting did get underway in some areas, a grenade blast was reported in Bujumbura.
Months of unrest
Burundi was driven into turmoil at the end of April was President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a third term in office, which opponents deem unconstitutional. The constitutional court allowed Nkurunziza to make a third run for president, but that decision too was marked by controversy as the court's vice president fled shortly before the ruling, citing death threats.
Violent protests rocked the capital for weeks, pitting demonstrators against police who often fired into the crowd to quell the outrage.
Several top officials, including deputy vice-president Gervais Rufyikiri, have left the poverty-stricken landlocked country in the wake of the unrest. Speaker of Parliament Pie Ntavyohanyuma, Burundi's second highest ranking official followed Rufyikiri's footsteps on the eve of the election, saying it was "impossible" to have free elections in this political climate.
Monday's polls are for local and parliamentary seats, to be followed by the presidential election on July 15.
es/rc (AFP, Reuters)