Burundi court orders swearing in of president-elect after leader's death

Pierre Nkurunziza's death on Monday, aged 55, came after the May election of his successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was meant to be inaugurated in August.

FILE: Evariste Ndayishimiye casts his ballot during the presidential and general elections at the Bubu Primary school in Giheta, central Burundi, on 20 May 2020. Picture: AFP

BUJUMBURA - Burundi's constitutional court on Friday ruled that the country's newly elected leader Evariste Ndayishimiye be rapidly sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza earlier this week.

Nkurunziza's death on Monday, aged 55, came after the May election of his successor Ndayishimiye, who was meant to be inaugurated in August.

The unusual situation raised questions over how the transition would be managed, as the constitution calls for the speaker of the national assembly to step in if the president dies.

However in its judgement the court wrote that an interim period "is not necessary".

The court ruled that the country must "proceed, as soon as possible, with the swearing-in of the president-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye".

Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, leaves behind a deeply isolated country in political and economic turmoil after his divisive 15-year rule.

His 2015 run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while some 400,000 fled the country.

A climate of fear marked by a crackdown on the opposition and media settled over Burundi, while a personality cult grew around Nkurunziza which saw the ruling party name him a "visionary" and "supreme guide for patriotism."

United Nations human rights investigators have said the period since 2015 has been marked by likely crimes against humanity committed by state forces, citing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and sexual violence.

Nkurunziza's decision not to run in the May 20 election shocked many, as it came after the constitution was changed to allow him to do so.