Burundians overwhelmingly voted for constitutional reforms bolstering President Pierre Nkurunziza’s powers and giving him the option to stay in office until 2034, official results showed Monday.
Election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye said 73 percent of voters had voted “Yes” in a referendum to change the constitution and 19 percent had voted “No”, with a turnout of 96 percent.
Last week’s referendum in Burundi asked voters to say “yes” or “no” to amendments extending the presidential term from five to seven years and allowing Nkurunziza to seek two more terms beginning in 2020.
Commission chairman Ndayicariye told a news conference that 96 percent of the 4.7 million registered voters cast ballots last Thursday.
Rights groups said campaigning and the vote itself took place in a climate of fear and intimidation. The government, however, insisted the vote would be free and fair.
Observers had widely expected the reforms to pass, partly due to support Nkurunziza still holds in rural areas, but also due to a three-year crackdown on dissent.
Nkurunziza, first elected by parliament in 2005, won re-election and then a third, much contested, poll in 2015.
But his announcement he was standing again that year despite being constitutionally limited to two terms sparked an attempted coup and a crackdown which cost at least 1,200 lives and left more than 400,000 homeless.
Before the referendum results were declared Monday, opposition groups had said they would not recognise the results of last week’s vote.
Threatening a peace deal and stability
Nkurunziza’s attempts to stay in power plunged his tiny East African nation into crisis in 2015 as protesters who took to the streets were met with a brutal government crackdown. A coup attempt followed which in turn saw widespread abuses, prompting the International Criminal Court to launch a probe into the atrocities.
This angered the government of Burundi, which became the first country to withdraw from the ICC.
At least 1,200 people have died and 400,000 been displaced, according to the ICC.
The constitutional reforms, which include measures that hand more power to Nkurunziza and his ruling CNDD-FDD, change term limits to seven years, meaning he could start again from scratch in 2020.
Critics say the referendum has struck a death blow to the Arusha peace deal, signed in 2000.
The accord ended Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war and ushered in measures to ensure power would not be concentrated in either the hands of the majority Hutu or minority Tutsi, after decades of violence between the communities.
© France 24 with AFP and Reuters