Access to social media and internet messaging services in Burundi was reportedly restored on Thursday afternoon (local time), May 21, a day after it was apparently blocked during the country's fraught presidential election. Multiple media sources and monitoring groups reported that services such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were unavailable throughout the country as voting began on Wednesday, May 20. However, the polls, which followed a campaign period marred by allegations of political violence, passed relatively peacefully, with no significant security incidents being reported.
Tensions around the elections remained elevated on Thursday as the main opposition candidate Agathon Rwasa made allegations of widespread fraud and electoral irregularities, including the arrest and harassment of National Council for Liberty (CNL) observers at polling stations. Election officials denied the claims of fraud, but the National Electoral Commission (CENI) stated that delays in counting meant that official results would not be released until Monday, May 25, or Tuesday, May 26.
A heightened security presence and elevated risk of political violence are likely to persist in Burundi in the medium term, particularly ahead of the announcement of official results and presidential inauguration.
Wednesday's poll was the first competitive presidential election to be held in Burundi since the country's 1993 civil war, with President Pierre Nkurunziza stepping down after his controversial third term in office. Nkurunziza's victory in the previous 2015 election cast the country into a long-running and violent political crisis which has seen at least 1200 people killed and over 400,000 displaced. However, opposition groups, including the main CNL opposition party, have questioned whether the president really intends to transfer power to his hand-picked successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, who is widely predicted to win the presidency.
Despite claims of impartiality from the CENI, there remain significant concerns over the openness of Wednesday's election process, with independent oversight being severely restricted after most international observers were barred from the country ahead of the poll. A second round of presidential elections will be held on Friday, June 19, should no candidate gain a majority in the first round.
Individuals in Burundi are advised to remain apprised of the political situation, avoid all public demonstrations and election-related events as a precaution, avoid discussing sensitive political topics in public, and heed all directives issued by the local authorities.
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