BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Three candidates, including two former presidents, announced their withdrawal from Burundi's upcoming presidential race, predicting the contest in this restive African nation will not be free and fair.
The letter announcing their pullout from Tuesday's election is the latest blow to the country's political system which has been rocked by months of violence after the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a third term — a move critics are calling unconstitutional.
Former presidents Domitien Ndayizeye, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya and former Speaker of Parliament Jean Minani said in the letter to the electoral commission that the political and security environment could not guarantee free and fair elections.
Opposition leaders have complained that they have been unable to campaign because of intimidation by government security agents.
Prosper Ntahorwamiye, the commission spokesman, said Saturday he had received the letter but the names of the candidates will remain in the ballot papers which had already been printed and distributed.
Nkurunziza chose to spend Saturday, the last day of the campaigns, in his home town Ngozi, watching a soccer match between local teams.
Burundi has been tense since April when the ruling party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza to be its candidate — prompting widespread demonstrations in the capital.
At least 77 people have died in the sporadic demonstrations, which at one point boiled over into an attempted military coup in May that was quickly quashed by pro-Nkurunziza forces.
The opposition says Nkurunziza must go after serving his two constitutionally-allowed terms. The nation's constitutional court has ruled in the president's favor, however, maintaining he is eligible for a third term because he was chosen by lawmakers — and not popularly elected — for his first term.
Nearly 144,000 refugees have fled Burundi since April fearing election violence. Burundi's government and opposition groups are in negotiations aimed at ending the political unrest.