Counting votes in Bujumbura during Burundi’s 2015 elections. Photo credit: VOA/Edward Rwema (public domain)
Freedom House Rating
May 2025 (due)
May 2027 (due)
Presidential and Elections
May 20, 2020
Senate Elections (indirect)
July 20, 2020
August 24, 2020
Burundi is due to hold legislative elections in May 2025 and a presidential election in May 2027.
These elections follow the May 20, 2020 presidential, legislative, and communal elections, denounced as neither free nor fair and characterized by intimidation (and sometimes murder) of the opposition, political violence, and a lack of media freedom. The elections took place despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling CNDD–FDD party’s candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, one of the country’s most influential generals, was declared the winner of the presidential election with 71 percent of the vote, and opposition candidate Agathon Rwasa won 25 percent. In the legislative elections, CNDD-FDD took 72 seats, Rwasa’s Congrès national pour la liberté (CNL) took 27, and minor opposition party UPRONA took just one.
Burundi’s 12-year civil war ended in 2005, but since then, former President Pierre Nkurunziza turned the country into a dictatorship that former U.N. rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein described as one of “the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times.” Nkurunziza was first elected president by the legislature in 2005 after his Hutu nationalist CNDD-FDD won a majority in legislative elections that year. He was re-elected in a direct election in 2010, in which he was the only candidate.
In 2015, Nkurunziza ran for a third term, which sparked a political crisis, and the election was marred by violence and a coup attempt. Nkurunziza defeated Rwasa 70 percent of the vote to 19 percent. Nonetheless, some opposition lawmakers did take their seats in parliament. Nkurunziza decided not to seek another term in 2020, instead agreeing to assume the title of “Paramount Leader, Champion of Patriotism and Leadership Core,” with a view to exercising power behind the scenes.
The 2020 elections took place in a climate of fear, with citizens, and especially opposition and civil society activists, being terrorized by state security apparatus and the Imbonerakure, a youth militia connected to Nkurunziza’s National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy party (a party that in fact does the opposite of defending democracy). Although Nkurunziza was not a candidate, he loomed large over the process, and sought to ethnicize the country’s politics (Burundi is approximately 80 percent Hutu, 19 percent Tutsi, and 1 percent Twa). CNDD–FDD was one of the biggest militias during Burundi’s civil war, which raged from 1993 to 2005. Rwasa was also a Hutu rebel leader, and his former political party, National Forces of Liberation (FLN), also grew out of a militia.
While Nkurunziza’s Hutu nationalist CNDD–FDD claimed victory, opposition candidate Agathon Rwasa disputed the result in court. However, the challenge was not successful, and Ndayishimiye was ultimately sworn in. In a twist, Nkurunziza himself died two weeks after the election, at age 55. The government said he died of a heart attack, but there were rumors that he actually died of COVID-19.
Ndayishimiye has much work cut out for him if he wants to heal the country’s divisions and solve deep-rooted problems. It is unclear which course he will take in the coming months and years.
Curated News and Analysis
Africanews (September 2, 2021): Burundi: Rights group condemns president’s attacks on journalist
Lorraine Nkengurutse, African Arguments (August 6, 2021): Burundi: How different is President Ndayishimiye?
Romain Gras, The Africa Report (July 9, 2021): Burundi: President Ndayishimiye is trying to bring the country out of its isolation
International Crisis Group (July 2, 2021): Burundi: Charm Offensive or Real Change?
Paul Nantulya, Africa Center for Strategic Studies (June 22, 2020): Post-Nkurunziza Burundi: The Rise of the Generals
Abdi Latif Dahir, New York Times (June 9, 2020): President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, Dies of Heart Attack Mr. Nkurunziza ruled the small Central African nation for 15 years with an iron fist, arresting journalists, stifling media outlets and cracking down on the opposition.
Human Rights Watch (June 1, 2020: Burundi: Intimidation, Arrests During Elections
The Economist (May 28, 2020): Burundi’s rigged election
Jeune Afrique/AFP (May 27, 2020 – in French): Presidential election in Burundi: the Catholic Church deplores “irregularities”
International Crisis Group (May 18, 2020): An Essential Primer on Burundi’s Elections
Updated January 15, 2022