Voters in Burundi will choose the country’s new president, members of parliament and local officials in Wednesday’s elections, which are tempered by the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak and allegations of voter suppression.
The concern prompted the African Union Commission and United Nations to release a joint statement Sunday urging the defense and security forces and state-owned media to fully contribute to preserving a stable and peaceful environment, a pre-requisite for free, inclusive, fair, transparent and credible elections in Burundi.
Burundi’s election marks the country’s first step in moving away from President Pierre Nkurunziza’s 15-year reign, which has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses, and his controversial decision to seek a third term five years ago, which propelled the country into an economic crisis.
General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party is considered the frontrunner among six other candidates.
Ndayishimiye has suggested voters not fear the coronavirus, saying “God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi.”
Burundi’s leadership has largely ignored the threat of the coronavirus, allowing large political rallies leading up to the vote and imposing no restrictions on people’s movement.
The government also just expelled, with no explanation, four top World Health Organization (WHO) officials changing the response to the epidemic.
So far, Burundi has confirmed 42 cases and one death from the virus, but some doctors have expressed concern the government is not revealing the full impact of the virus on the population.