Burundi lawmakers to make president 'Supreme Guide' ahead of elections

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Burundi is drawing up legislation ahead of May elections to give President Pierre Nkurunziza the title of “Supreme Guide of Patriotism”, state television reported, despite widespread rights abuses and an economic meltdown under his leadership.

FILE PHOTO: Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza waves to his supporters as he arrives for the promulgation of the new constitution at Bugendana commune in Gitega Province, Burundi June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana/File Photo

Nkurunziza, whose decision to run for a third, five-year term in 2015 sparked widespread protests and violence, has pledged not to stand in the polls. His party, the CNDD-FDD, will pick a presidential candidate this Sunday.

Prosper Ntahorwamiye, the government’s spokesman, said the council of ministers would send legislation confirming Nkurunziza’s title to parliament, which is controlled by the ruling party. It’s unclear what powers the title will confer.

“Nkurunziza deserves consideration for services he did for the Burundian people, who decided to elevate him to the rank of the supreme guide in patriotism,” Ntahorwamiye said on state television.

The proposed new bill comes after parliament passed another bill earlier this week, granting Nkurunziza hefty pension perks including a 1 billion Burundi franc ($535,000) retirement villa.

In September, the United Nations warned that police, security forces and the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, were committing serious human rights violations.

Those included killings, disappearances, torture and gang rape of alleged political opponents, and that violence was likely to spike as polls approached. Burundi condemned these accusations.

Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries and lost donor funding after the political violence following the 2015 election. Its GDP per capita was $270 per person in 2018, World Bank statistics show.

Party members in the CNDD-FDD said potential candidates in the party primary on Sunday include the party’s Secretary General Evariste Ndayishimiye and the speaker of the national assembly, Pascal Nyabenda.

The winner will face off with the opposition Frodebu and CNL parties in the May election.

Writing by Nairobi Newsroom; Editing by Katya Golubkova