By Yves Muneza
After barring regional and international observers in the Wednesday presidential, legislative and district council elections, Burundi’s electoral body has warned observers not to carry phones or any other communication gadgets in the polling stations.
According to CENI (Independent National Electoral commission) observers, both local and international (if at all there are some) will have to leave their phones home or outside voting stations before accessing the voting stations and during the tallying of the votes. “Local and foreign observers are strictly prohibited from using mobile phones and taking photos inside polling stations on polling day,” a statement of CENI on media and observers guidelines reads in part.
On the other hand, this decision of restricting observers with their mobile cellphones or taking pictures with any other gadgets has met serious criticism by both social media experts and members of the public in general. “This is totally ridiculous, so why inviting the observers in the first place? How are they going to document reliably?” asked one Joseph Bope Ruhunga, a Burundian citizen on Twitter.
The election pits mainly Agathon Rwasa, the leader of National Freedom Council (CNL) who has been pulling massive crowds against Evariste Ndayishimiye who is running on the ticket of CNDD/FDD, the incumbent party. Evariste Ndayishimiye is a retired army general who has served as minister of the interior and security.
Prior to the decision to ban phones, regional bodies like EALA had sought to send in a number of observers, but were surprised to learn that they would have to be quarantined for a period of 14 days – a decision that was announced 10 days before the elections.