JOHANNESBURG-Switzerland has expressed concerns ahead of the constitutional referendum in Burundi scheduled for Thursday.
The constitutional referendum is being carried out in a climate of intimidation and political tension and is marked by the absence of democratic debate between Burundi’s different social and political groups.
The people of Burundi are being asked to vote yes or no to a proposal to extend the president’s term from five years to seven, which would allow the incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, to rule for another 14 years, which means he will leave office in 2034.
Twenty Six people have already been killed as tensions are running high ahead of the plebiscite.
On Tuesday, Switzerland urged all parties to resume dialogue in the spirit of the Arusha Accords.
Switzerland said it recognised the country’s sovereignty over the conduct of its referendums and the proposed texts to be adopted but cautioned the process had not been fair as the new constitution, which will be put to a referendum, was only made officially public at a very late stage.
“Switzerland recalls the appeal by the African Union to “initiate all constitutional reforms via a broad national consensus among all relevant stakeholders.” It notes that the mediation process led by the East African Community is deadlocked and calls on all parties to show their willingness to resume dialogue,” read the statement from the European nation.
The ban on Voice of America and BBC broadcasts, restrictions imposed on journalists, arbitrary arrests and alleged harsh sentences for human rights defenders remain a concern according to Switzerland.
The statement added that Switzerland supported the negotiations for the Arusha Peace Agreement at the end of the civil war and wants the Burundi authorities to respect the spirit and letter of the agreement, which has brought peace to the country.