June 28, 2010 / 10:05 AM / 9 years ago

Few Burundians turn out for presidential vote

* Opposition boycotts poll

* Presidential aspirant away "on holiday"



By Patrick Nduwimana

BUJUMBURA, June 28 (Reuters) - Many Burundians stayed away from voting stations on Monday in a presidential election in which the outcome is already clear after a decision by opposition candidates to boycott the poll.

Incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza is without a challenger after six opposition candidates pulled out of the race alleging widespread fraud, and a series of grenade attacks during the campaign period have also heightened tension.

"An election with only one candidate does not make sense, I am taking my coffee and after that I will go home to rest," said Willy Harerimana, sitting in an internet cafe.

One of Nkurunziza’s main opponents, former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa, has disappeared and is thought to be hiding in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, officials in his Forces for the National Liberation (FNL) said he was away for a couple of weeks on holiday.

Rwasa’s FNL came in second in the May 24 district election in which the ruling CNDD-FDD won 64 percent of the vote. Opposition parties rejected the result.

Local media reported there had been some grenade blasts in some areas of the country early on Monday morning although no one was hurt.

"There is big difference today compared to the last election. An hour after the opening of polling stations, only a few people came to vote," the head of one polling station told Reuters.

Voters for Nkurunziza put their ballots in white envelopes and dropped them into white boxes, while those against the incumbent placed theirs in a black envelopes and then into black boxes.

"I voted to express my gratitude to President Nkurunziza who has provided free health care for mothers delivering," said Cubwa Zainabu, a mother of six children.

Monday’s election was preceded by a number of arrests of opposition members over the weekend, who allegedly planned to disrupt the vote. Opposition members denied the accusation, and say the government is cracking down on the opponents.

A series of polls in Burundi, which are also meant to include parliamentary elections in July, are a measure of stability in the country since 2005, when former rebel leader Nkurunziza was elected president after a long U.N.-backed peace process.

"There are people who decided to stay home, but I came to vote because I need peace," said 32 year-old Gahungu Elias.








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