Saturday, October 28, 2017

Burundi Government Backs Constitution Change

The approved changes to the constitution could pave way to a potential 14-year extension in President Pierre Nkurunziza's stay in office

The government of crisis-torn Burundi has approved changes to the constitution that could pave the way to a potential 14-year extension in President Pierre Nkurunziza's stay in office, senior officials said Thursday.

Ministers, meeting on Tuesday in an extraordinary session, gave their agreement in principle to the proposed reforms, they said.

The present constitution derives from the country's 2000 peace agreement, which was signed in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha to end a 12-year civil war that claimed more than 300,000 lives.

The planned changes do not touch ethnic and gender quotas required for the government, parliament or police, "but they no longer make a reference to the Arusha peace agreement," said one of the officials, who like the other sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Arusha accord stipulates clearly that no president can govern the country for more than 10 years.

But Burundi is mired in a deep political crisis, triggered when opposition groups, determined to defend the Arusha requirement, protested against elections in April 2015 that enabled Nkurunziza to stay on for a third five-year term.

The victory of the 53-year-old leader plunged the central African nation into turmoil, with hundreds killed in ensuing unrest. Nearly 400,000 have fled the country.

The draft constitution changes say "the president of the republic is elected for a seven-year term which is renewable" but adds, "no president can govern for more than two consecutive terms."

In theory, this could mean that Nkurunziza could be elected in 2020 and be re-elected seven years later, together making a 14-year additional run.

Another source said that the ministers also agreed that the draft constitutional text -- the fruit of a year-long consultation exercise that drew in proposals from 26,000 people -- would be submitted to a referendum "very quickly, probably in February next year."

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