23 May 2010

Elections Postponed, Again

Word came out late on Friday that elections would definitely be postponed again, from Sunday to Monday. The nonpartisan electoral commission was confident they would have all the id cards and ballots distributed in time for a Sunday election, but the president, along with about ninety percent of the population that goes to church on Sunday, said there's no way elections can happen on a Sunday. We must have another holiday on Monday in order to have the elections! But word came out late last night that the small percentage of Muslims who live here are crying fowl for a Monday elections, because Monday is a Muslim holiday. Traditionally, the government calls two Muslim holidays a year as national holidays, but the one coming up tomorrow isn't one of them. Also, the Muslim community is tiny compared to the rest of the population and many Muslims aren't even Burundian citizens. But it could still be perceived that the president is favoring his own religion rather than treating everyone as equals. It's a sticky situation and so far we haven't heard which way it's definitely going to go.

We had dinner last night with some Burundian friends. The general consensus is that the electoral commission made the right decision in postponing until they were sure they could get it right. But if the government keeps delaying and doesn't announce those postponements until late the night before (announcements have a tendency to come out around 10 pm, once the local tv stations have stopped broadcasting), people are going to be too fed up to bother voting. Every time the government calls a new holiday for voting, the business community gets annoyed by the business they're losing. Employers don't want to close down again, and employees are stuck between enjoying a vacation day but having another day's pay disappear. In a country of 8 million people, less than half are eligible to vote, which makes these holidays even more of a nuisance to the non-voting residents (although, a good deal of the non-voting majority is school children, who probably don't care why they're not in school).

Most people think that at this point the elections will go ahead on Monday. Some of the press I've been reading is sort of unfair, calling the id cards and ballot distribution "embarrassing" mishaps, but people here think they were just business as usual.

Vote Credibility Hangs by a Thread

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