Burundi began tallying votes in a district election, the first of a series of polls in which the tiny African nation will also vote for representatives to parliament and its next president.
The polls are seen as a test of stability in the landlocked country which has enjoyed relative peace since the last Hutu rebel group agreed to lay down weapons and join the government last year.
Incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza seeks another term this year in elections pitting him against Agathon Rwasa, leader of former rebel group Forces for National Liberation.
District elections are often an indicator of how the rest of the vote will go. A political party that gets over 50% of the votes in the communal election in the first round is likely to win the presidential and parliamentary poll.
Yesterday, polling was extended in several stations for two hours after officials ran out of ballot paper, said Pierre Claver Ndayicariye, chairman of the national independent electoral commission (CENI).
“Some political parties have faced a deficit of ballot paper, but the electoral commission immediately sent the missing cards so that the vote continues,” Ndayicariye told local radio.
“This is the reason why we decided to extend the time of vote up to 1800 hours local time.” He did not say when early results were due. In the previous poll in 2005, provisional results were issued the day after the vote.
Missing voting materials
As voting began, people formed long queues at several polling stations an hour before the 6 am starting time, in the second democratic election since Burundi emerged from a two-decade war.
“Before coming here to vote, I went to church first to pray so that we can have a peaceful election,” said Jeremie, a voter in the southern Bujumbura district of Kinindo.
Some 3.5 million Burundians were expected to have voted for 1935 district councillors.
“I arrived here at 5.30 am and was among the people who voted first,” said 45-year-old Amissi Nahimana at the Buyenzi commune. “My expectation is that the election be free and fair.”
Authorities postponed the vote to Monday (yesterday) from last Friday because most voters did not have their cards and voting materials were missing in many stations. UN helicopters were used throughout the weekend to transport election materials around the country.
Political analysts say at least six parties will offer stiff opposition for President Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD ruling party. The presidential vote will take place on June 28.
The parliamentary vote is due on July 23, and one for senators on July 28. The electoral process will end with local elections to be held separately in September.
Pic: President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi