Burundi Voters Back Longer Presidential Terms in Referendum

(Bloomberg) -- Burundian voters backed sweeping constitutional changes including extending presidential terms to seven years, setting the stage for Pierre Nkurunziza to continue ruling the East African country until 2034.

The proposed changes were backed by 73.3 percent of people who cast a vote in the May 17 referendum, the head of the electoral committee, Pierre Claver Ndayicariye, told a briefing Monday in the capital, Bujumbura. About 19.3 percent voted “no,” while 4.1 percent of ballots were nullified and some diaspora figures weren’t available, although too small to influence the result, he said.

Burundi is already facing sporadic violence following Nkurunziza’s bid for his current five-year mandate in 2015, and critics argue he could run for re-election twice more under the new rules. The U.S. State Department said Monday that the referendum was marred by the suspension of media outlets, attempts to pressure voters and “a climate of fear and intimidation.”

Nkurunziza, who’s been president since the end of a civil war in 2005, is the latest leader in the region accused of trying to cement his hold on power, mirroring steps in Uganda and Rwanda. Unrest in Burundi over the past three years has left hundreds of people dead and forced more than 400,000 from their homes.

Amizero y’Abarundi, a coalition that campaigned for a “no” vote, won’t recognize the result, vice president Evariste Ngayimpenda told reporters later Monday, alleging mistreatment of its supporters.

Turnout for the referendum was 96.2 percent of the 4.77 million people registered to vote, Ndayicariye said.

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