Polling places have been set up in Burundi for controversial parliamentary elections that have put President Pierre Nkurunziza at odds with religious groups, the political opposition, students, the African Union, and the U.S.
Nkurunziza is seeking a third term despite a constitutional limit of two terms. The President argues that his first term was the result of selection by parliament and not a result of votes by the public, but critics disagree.
His action also violates a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005, critics said.
Some 3.8 million Burundians are eligible to vote in the polls, which the opposition and civil society groups are boycotting, claiming they will not be free and fair. Burundian authorities have refused to delay the elections despite calls from the international community.
“(The AU) will not observe the elections scheduled for June 29,” declared AU chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. “AU reiterates the imperative need for dialogue and consensus for a lasting solution to the crisis in Burundi.”
The refusal to send observers is a first by the AU against a member state.
Echoing the AU’s remarks, the UN said on Sunday that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was concerned about “the Government of Burundi’s insistence on going ahead with elections on 29 June despite the prevailing political and security environment”.
Meanwhile, a group of journalists – dubbed “SOS Medias” – has begun broadcasting the only independent news available in the country. With military officers physically keeping them from their studios, they are using SoundCloud, a new platform, to broadcast the news.
“Even if we could get into our studios, a lot of our equipment has been destroyed,” said one member of the team on the condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “The website allows us to continue to broadcast radio reports using whatever recording devices we have.”
Reports on their SoundCloud page range from minute-long interview clips to full-fledged news reports on the current unrest.
In one report a journalist details the recent closure of the office of Air and Border Police. In another, opposition leader Agathon Rwasa explains his doubts about the coming elections at a press conference, the clicks of photographers’ cameras echoing in the background.
Electoral commission spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye told the BBC that he was unaware of any incidents. Presidential elections are due next month.