The political crisis in Burundi is worsening by the day. The crisis took a dramatic turn on Monday when Sylvere Nimpagaritse, Vice President of Burundi’s Constitutional court saddled with the responsibility of delivering final ruling on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial third-term bid fled the country.
The fleeing judge explained that he took the option of abdication of his constitutional role and escaped the country because he could not sign an illegal ruling “in my soul and conscience”following “enormous pressure and death threats”.
He further disclosed that most of the court’s seven judges believed it would be unconstitutional for Nkurunziza to stand again, but had faced enormous political pressure and even death threats to rubber-stamp the incumbent president’s candidacy.
“In my soul and conscience I decided not to put my signature to a ruling, a decision which is clearly not lawful that would be imposed from the outside, and which has nothing legal about it,” declared Nimpagaritse before leaving the country.
Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power since 2005, has come under intense international pressure to withdraw from the June 26 presidential election.
On Monday the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said he was “deeply concerned” about Nkurunziza’s decision to stand again, which “flies directly in the face of the constitution”.
Judge Nimpagaritse’s dramatic departure occurred barely hours after police shot dead four protesters in the Central African country where violence has left at least 13 dead in just over a week.
Analysts say the escape of one of the key actors in the fledging political turmoil could as well mark a turning point for Burundi and the beginning of the end of Nkurunziza’s controversial term elongation project.
Burundi’s senate – controlled by the president’s CNDD-FDD party – had asked the court to decide the issue last week. Burundi, where a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus ended only in 2006, has been rocked by violent protests since the CNDD-FDD named Nkurunziza as its candidate for the election in defiance of the constitution and the spirit of the Arusha Accord which ended the war. Nkurunziza’s supporters insist he is eligible to run again since his first term in office followed his election by parliament, not directly by the people as the constitution specifies.
Police said 15 officers were wounded in Monday’s clashes after a grenade was “thrown by protesters”, and Burundi’s Red Cross said 46 protesters were wounded.
“I am killed by Nkurunziza!” one injured man screamed, as he was taken to hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder.
Since the protests started, the army has regularly come between the police and demonstrators to avoid further clashes, and the protesters believe the soldiers are neutral.
By Olisemeka Obeche (with agency report)