Ahead of a constitutional reform in May which could allow Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in power till 2034, the controversial leader has been named “Eternal Supreme Guide” by his political party. This implies that no one in the governing CNDD-FDD can disagree with the president’s choices and decisions, secretary-general Evariste Ndayishimiye said.
“He is our leader. Therefore, in our party… no one is comparable to him,” Mr Ndayishimiye was quoted by the BBC.
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“He is our parent; he is the one who advises us. That is why I ask all our members to respect that because a home without the man (its head) can be overlooked by anybody. For us, we have the best,” he added.
Meanwhile, many people have criticized the move, arguing that a cult of personality is developing around the 54-year-old leader.
Nkurunziza is seeking a fourth-term bid and has since launched a campaign to promote a referendum to change the constitution that could see him rule until 2034.
“It’s the day you’ve been waiting for,” Nkurunziza told a crowd of thousands of farmers in the central Gitega district in December last year and threatened those who sought to undermine the referendum vote slated for May 2018.
“We take this opportunity to warn those who want to sabotage this project, whether by speech or actions. It will be a red line,” Nkurunziza was quoted by French news agency AFP.
For now, campaigning for a specific result of the referendum is banned until two weeks before the vote. But some opponents, mostly former rebels of the National Liberation Forces (FNL) led by Agathon Rwasa, have already been calling for a “no” vote in the referendum.
Four students and a teacher have so far been arrested by the police in the northern Ngozi district for telling people to vote “no”. The police issued an official warning, saying it will arrest anyone campaigning prematurely against the referendum.
In power since 2005, Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015 and was re-elected in 2015 in spite of provisions that set a limit of two five-year presidential terms.
His decision to run again plunged the country into crisis, resulting in the death of about 2,000 people, and sending more than 400,000 Burundians fleeing across borders, mainly to Tanzania.
Opposition activists are saying that the 54-year-old’s decision to run for a fourth term will compromise the country’s 2000 peace agreement that ended a 13-year civil war in which more than 200,000 people died.