Burundi electoral body suggests delaying presidential poll to July 15

Burundi was thrown into a political crisis in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term that his opponents said was unconstitutional (AFP Photo/CARL DE SOUZA)

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's electoral commission on Monday suggested postponing an upcoming presidential election until July 15, after weeks of protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza's third-term bid.

The commission also proposed delaying parliamentary elections until June 26 and holding senator elections on July 24.

The parliamentary election had been scheduled to take place on June 5 but was postponed indefinitely on the eve of the vote, while the presidential vote was initially scheduled for June 26.

Around 40 people have died and scores more have been injured in protests that began when Nkurunziza announced in late April that he would stand again, after Burundi's constitutional court gave him the green light.

Nkurunziza's opponents say his candidacy is unconstitutional and goes against the 2006 Arusha peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war.

Nkurunziza survived a coup attempt last month and has since faced down international pressure, including aid cuts, aimed at forcing him to reconsider.

"The date of July 15 is suggested for the holding of the presidential election," the head of the electoral commission, Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye, announced, noting that the move was in line with a recommendation made by East African leaders.

The heads of state gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on May 31 and requested that elections be delayed by at least six weeks so that tensions might be calmed.

However, on Monday evening some opposition and civil society groups said the electoral commission had lost legitimacy since two of its five commissioners fled the country in late May and early June. Charles Nditije, an opposition leader, said their absence meant the commission's rulings were legally void.

The new electoral calendar requires the passing of a presidential decree before it becomes law.

It is hoped that the delay will help defuse the political crisis and give the president and his opponents an opportunity for dialogue, rather than violent street protests.

Last week a group of 17 political parties and organisations issued a joint statement reaffirming their "commitment to continued dialogue" aimed at ensuring "free, calm, transparent and credible elections".

But both sides have entrenched positions with opponents saying Nkurunziza must abandon his third-term ambitions and the president insisting he will stand for election.

Near-daily demonstrations since late April have disrupted life in parts of the capital Bujumbura but have failed to gather momentum outside the city, or even outside the handful of neighbourhoods that have been protest hotspots since the start.

In the capital protests have been suppressed by a heavy police presence and a forceful security response with any attempts at forming large gatherings or building barricades being met with tear gas, warning shots and live rounds.