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Burundi ruling party heads for poll victory, as opposition cries foul

Burundians voted on Wednesday to elect their president, lawmakers and local officials in a poll marked by allegations of fraud and conducted with scant attention to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Burundian woman receives a ballot paper from an electoral official during the presidential and general elections at the Bubu Primary school in Giheta, central Burundi, on 20 May 2020. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - Burundi's ruling party on Friday appeared headed for a general election victory, as official results from more than 60% of municipalities put it far ahead of the opposition, which dismissed the figures as "fantasy".

Burundians voted on Wednesday to elect their president, lawmakers and local officials in a poll marked by allegations of fraud and conducted with scant attention to the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote comes five years after the highly contested re-election of Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term, which sparked violence that left at least 1,200 dead, saw 400,000 flee the borders and plunged the country into turmoil that persists to this day.

After Nkurunziza's surprise decision not to run this time, his handpicked heir Evariste Ndayishimiye is the frontrunner, with results published on state media handing him around 80% of the vote.

His rival, Agathon Rwasa, leader of the National Council for Liberty (CNL), was attributed around 20 percent of votes, while the remaining five candidates barely scored one percent combined.

Rwasa has already rejected the results streaming in, and his party accused authorities of arresting their agents, and preventing them from observing the vote and taking part in counting.

"Absolutely I reject these results. These results being declared are a fantasy. They do not reflect reality," said Rwasa said as the first results came in late Thursday.

"We have won - whether in the presidential, legislative or local elections. We have the results to prove it."

In one case, the ruling party captured three-quarters of votes in the opposition stronghold of Kabezi, one of Burundi's 119 municipalities. The CNL attracted just under one quarter.

CNL spokesman Therence Manirambona on Friday denounced "a carefully prepared hold-up", repeating accusations that there had been proxy voting, instances of people voting multiple times, and opposition agents chased out of polling station and the counting process.

The election commission and ruling party have yet to react to the opposition accusations.

Rwasa drew large crowds during the campaign, and observers said he was riding on a wave of despair in the country.

As a fellow former Hutu rebel during the country's 1993-2006 civil war with the minority Tutsi-dominated army, Rwasa was seen as having as much legitimacy to lead as Ndayishimiye.

However the ruling CNDD-FDD's news website Intumwa announced in the middle of the day that following the election, its supporters will "spend three days before God for a prayer of thanks" from 28 May to 30 May.

On election day, Pierre Nkurikiye, the spokesman for Burundi's public security ministry, accused members of the CNL of attempted fraud, confirming some of their members were arrested for minor incidents.

The campaign was marked by violence and arbitrary arrests - the kind that has persisted in the shadows since the 2015 poll.

Since that election Burundi has been increasingly isolated on the world stage and cut off by donors, with state security forces accused by rights groups and the United Nations of crimes against humanity and severe rights abuses such as torture, disappearances, sexual violence and executions.