Burundi will raise funds from citizens to pay for 2020 election

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Burundi plans to raise money for an election in 2020 by deducting part of civil servants’ salaries and taking contributions directly from citizens, a government minister said on Monday, as it seeks to replace dwindling external funding.

Until 2015, Burundi used external aid to pay for elections, but donors have suspended their assistance since a political crisis erupted when President Pierre Nkurunziza sought and won a third term.

Pascal Barandagiye, the minister for interior, said the government will also be seek contributions from every household, which will pay up to 2000 francs ($1.14) a year. Gross national income per capita stood at $280 in 2016, and close to 65 percent of the population live below the poverty line, according to World Bank data.

“The total amount of the election cost is not yet known ... But as soon as the needed fund is got the fundraising campaign will be halted,” Barandagiye told a news conference. “That contribution should be given voluntarily, it shouldn’t be seen as a head tax.”

Students of voting age will contribute 1000 francs annually. Civil servants will contribute at least a tenth of their monthly salaries, Barandagiye said. Foreign help would also be accepted, he said.

Burundi has been gripped by a political crisis since April 2015, when Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a third term, which the opposition said violated the constitution as well as a 2005 peace deal that ended a 12-year civil war.

He won a vote largely boycotted by the opposition, but protests sparked a government crackdown. More than 700 people have been killed and 400,000 displaced to neighbouring countries. The economy has stagnated.

The aid-dependent nation now has to rely on domestic tax collection and modest revenue from coffee and tea exports. Key donors, such as the European Union, cut direct financial support to the government over accusations of human rights violations and the crackdown on opponents, which Burundi rejects.

At the end of October, Burundi’s cabinet adopted draft legislation seeking to change the current constitution to allow Nkurunziza to run for a fourth term in the 2020 election.

The proposed amendments, which are likely to go to a referendum by next year, seek to abolish the two-term limit and lengthen the presidential terms to seven years.

($1 = 1,750.4900 Burundi francs)

Editing by George Obulutsa, Larry King