A ruling party candidate, handpicked by the outgoing president, has won Burundi’s first competitive election since a decade-long civil war began in 1993, electoral officials have announced.
Evariste Ndayishimiye, who stood for the CNDD-FDD party, was declared the winner with 69% of the vote on Monday.
The 52-year-old former general and interior minister beat six other candidates, including the opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, who is deputy chairman of the national assembly and won 24% of the vote.
There have been claims of rigging and repression during the campaign.
The incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza was forced to step aside after 15 years in power by opponents within the country’s CNDD-FDD, and his successor was selected as someone acceptable to the country’s powerful generals.
Nkurunziza will become “supreme guide” in the small and poverty-hit country, with wide if ill-defined power. The former leader will also receive a $0.5m (£410,000) gift from the nation along with a luxury villa.
Rights groups say the government is pressing ahead with the vote irresponsibly, and accuse the ruling party and its youth wing of systematically crushing dissent.
Between January and March, Ligue Iteka, an exiled Burundian human rights organisation, documented 67 killings, including 14 extrajudicial executions, six disappearances, 15 cases of gender-based violence, 23 cases of torture, and 204 arbitrary arrests. There was also some violence directed against ruling party members and youths – including killings – but at much lower levels.
Burundian police detained more than 200 opposition electoral observers, the spokesman for the main opposition National Freedom Council said last week.
The election took place amid concern that authorities are deliberately playing down the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The nation of 11 million people has reported 42 cases of Covid-19 and one death and officials have cited divine protection for Burundi’s ostensibly low infection rate and urged citizens to go about their daily lives without fear.
Nkurunziza’s spokesperson recently said that though the country may be hit by the pandemic, “Burundi … has signed a special covenant with God, whether you believe it or not”. Earlier this month, Burundi expelled the World Health Organization’s expert team working on coronavirus.
Nelleke van de Walle of the research organisation International Crisis Group said last week the campaign had seen “certain elements of a real election” but was “definitely not an election where people can express their opinions freely”.
Both Ndayishimiye and Rwasa were senior commanders in predominantly Hutu militias during a civil war in which about 300,000 people were killed. Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 as part of a peace deal.
Ndayishimiye has promised to “fight poverty and develop the country”, claiming his party had taken 15 years to “lay the foundations” for the future and it was not the time to put “amateurs” in power.
The country’s last election in 2015 led to violence that left at least 1,200 dead, displaced hundreds of thousands and resulted in a sustained crackdown on the opposition and media. Aid was cut off by donors and sanctions imposed.
Last year, the government shut down the UN human rights office after repeated criticism that members of the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing and the security services were torturing, gang-raping and murdering political opponents.