What a year it has been for the small, landlocked African country. Burundi, already in the midst of any and all forms of chaos and instability to the highest degree, has opened voting booths for a presidential election that is, safe to say, controversial. A man who some may recall for banning jogging back in March 2014, current President Pierre Nkurunziza is now enjoying his third term as the head of the state after garnering almost 70% of the votes, and it hasn’t been received well by many Burundians. A third team means five more years for Nkurunziza, but there’s a bigger problem: it’s unconstitutional. After Burundi’s bloody 12-year civil war ended in 2005, a two-term limit was imposed on future presidents. That being said, the government still believes that the elections were valid; they claim that Nkurunziza is eligible because his first term wasn’t granted through popular elections. After the civil war ended, he was first elected unopposed in 2005 by Burundi’s MPs.
When Nkurunziza announced his interest in a third term, many took to the street. That said, protests were met with brutal response: at least 100 have been confirmed dead, and around 170,000 have fled the country, 80,000 of them to Tanzania. That didn’t put a halt President Nkurunziza’s ambitions, and neither did a failed coup while he was abroad last May. In fact, when he returned, he was even more adamant about his candidacy, claiming he is Burundi’s only hope for some stability. “It’s either me or Al-Shabaab,” he said, using the Somalia-based Al-Qaeda offshoot’s threats to attack Burundi as an anchor to his ultimatum.
Political opposition and civil society organizations chose to boycott the elections, and voter turnout was at a serious low. While voter turnout in rural areas reached up to 80%, Burundi’s capital amidst the protests and violence, Bujumbura only had a turnout of a little under 40%, making this the lowest voter turnout in Burundi in three decades. Many analysts see this as problematic, citing the potential for the sporadic violent sparks to develop into another civil war. It also doesn’t help that this could impact the aid that Burundi receives from the United States. Secretary John Kerry called the elections “deeply flawed,” and it looks like they could be halting some of America’s aid to Burundi, including military training for Burundi’s troops in the African Union. But larger punitive measures from the United States through halting some of its aid programs can be possible, which could play a role in the civil war scenario many analysts have speculated.