, BUJUMBURA, Burundi, Jun 29 – Burundi goes to the polls Monday with the president defiant in his controversial bid for a third term in power, despite weeks of unrest that forced thousands to flee and prompted international calls for a delay.
On the eve of the election, top party official and parliament head Pie Ntavyohanyuma said Sunday he had joined some 127,000 other Burundians who have fled the country, denouncing President Pierre Nkurunziza’s “illegal” bid to stay in power for a third term.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has heeded the calls for the elections to be delayed after the opposition said they would not take part, as Burundi faces its worst crisis since its civil war ended nine years ago.
“I would like to say to him (Nkurunziza) that the mandate he wants to have is illegal. I would like to say to him that forcing through the election is senseless,” Ntavyohanyuma told the broadcaster France 24 on Sunday.
More than 70 have been killed in weeks of violence and a failed coup sparked by Nkurunziza’s bid to stay in power, with a string of grenade attacks in recent days.
Several top officials – including the deputy vice-president Gervais Rufyikiri as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court – have also fled the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.
But the government has defied all requests for a delay, and the electoral commission said Sunday all was ready for polling day. READ: Burundi parliament head leaves country, denounces president.
“Everything is ready in the country,” election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye said Sunday, saying all voting material had been delivered to over 11,000 polling stations across the country.
The African Union announced Sunday it would not act as an observer in the parliamentary polls, saying the conditions were not right for “credible elections”.
“Noting that the necessary conditions are not met for the organisation of free, fair, transparent and credible elections… the AU Commission will not observe the local and parliamentary elections,” commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.