Roman Catholic Bishops and EU pull out of Burundi electoral process

Burundian Catholic Bishops

Burundian Catholic Bishops

The Roman Catholic Church in Burundi has officially ordered all its priests to withdraw from all election-related preparations as heads of Independent Provincial and Communal electoral commissions.

In a press statement released Thursday by the Roman Catholic Council of Bishops of Burundi, the council says their decision was based on the fact that the current conditions are not permissive for a free and fair electoral process.

“Considering the way these elections are organized and the current developments; considering the mission of priests to reconcile people and bring them together in unity, we, Bishops of the Catholic Church, after a thorough analysis of the situation, we felt that the priests should resign and give their work to those who can continue to organize these elections,” reads the statement.

Two weeks ago, the Burundi Roman Catholic Council of Bishops issued a 5-day ultimatum to the Burundi government through a May 12, release containing a series of recommendations for transparent and credible elections.

Among the things they highlighted included putting an end to militant intimidation against opposition, restoring security throughout the whole country, delaying the electoral calendar so as to set up peaceful environment suitable for free and fair elections, and reopening of the shut media outlets.

The Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Burundi warned that unless their complaints were thoroughly considered, their Church would not be able to support this electoral process, be it through sending observers for monitoring the process or through priests sent to different branches of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

In their statement read today, the Bishops warn that obstinacy and violent confrontation can never lead to real victory, but to an illusionary one. They call for dialogue between the protagonists for the best of all.

On their part, the electoral commissions dismissed the bishops’ withdrawal the electoral process.

Prosper Ntahorwamiye, the spokesperson of CENI, says the number of priests withdrawing from the electoral process is far less than the whole number of heads of provincial and communal electoral commissions throughout the country.

“This move has little or no effect as we only have 11 priests as heads of the Independent Provincial Electoral Commissions who are withdrawing out of 163, while there are just 33 priests as heads of Independent Communal Electoral Commissions out of 645 throughout the country, so this cannot prevent us from taking any decision and from proceeding with the electoral process,” Mr Ntahorwamiye said

He noted the Independent National Electoral Commission is not surprised by such a decision as it was predictable following talks they had with the Bishops on how the electoral process should be conducted.

Besides the Roman Catholic Church, the European Union suspended its observer mission Thursday, alleging the electoral process is “seriously marred by restrictions on independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators (and) a climate of intimidation for opposition parties and civil society”.

Meanwhile upon receiving a report from the UN Special envoy to Burundi, Said Djinnit on the ongoing turmoil, the majority of UN Security Council members, except Russia, have suggested the forthcoming elections be postponed.

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek the third term has thrown the country into turmoil as Burundians have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the controversial move.