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Burundi: Senate Endorses New Law on Political Parties

(May 5, 2011) On April 28, 2011, Burundi's Senate, one of the two houses that make up the country's legislature, passed a new law on political parties; it had been approved by the other house earlier in the week. If enacted, the new law will replace a 2003 law on the subject. Of the 37 possible votes on the law in the Senate, there were no negative votes and only one abstention, from former President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, who felt that some provisions in the bill were unclear. (Burundi Senate Passes Draft Law on Political Parties, COASTWEEK (Apr. 29-May 4, 2011).) Burundi's Constitution provides that heads of state become permanent members of the Senate when they leave the office. (Art. 180, Constitution of the Republic of Burundi of Feb. 22, 2005 [in French], Constitutional Laws of Nations of the World website (unofficial source, last visited May 2, 2011).)

Under the new legislation, a party would need a much greater number of members, from across the country, to qualify to participate in elections. Moreover, the law specifies that the status of a founding member of a party cannot be transferred; this will make it difficult for parties to list their 100 founding members, as required, because some founding members have died. (Burundi Senate Endorses New Political Parties' Law, BURUNDI PRESS AGENCY (Apr. 29, 2011), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201104291477.1_84370039a52a7466.) In addition, the government will oversee the implementation of the internal rules of political parties. The law also requires party heads to prove they reside in Burundi; following the elections last year, a number of leaders from parties outside the government went into hiding for their own safety, during the post-voting period of reprisal killings. (Burundi Opposition Says to Fight Political Parties Law, AFP (via YAHOO NEWS) (Apr. 26, 2011).)

The Interior Minister, Edouard Nduwmana, supported the bill despite the stricter requirements for establishing new political parties, calling the current situation in which there are more than 40 parties in existence “bloated.” (Burundi Parliament Passes Law Restricting New Political Parties, VOANEWS.COM (Apr. 25, 2011).) By contrast, Ntibantunganya objected to several different provisions of the bill as poorly drafted, including article 84, on funding for political parties and another on illicit enrichment of parties. He also criticized a provision that would ban coalitions that last beyond the campaign season, stating:

Forbidding formation of coalitions of political parties during an electoral period can have a bad impact on the setting up of institutions because the national constitution allows coalitions while the new draft law on political parties prevents them. However, the fundamental law is the national constitution. (COASTWEEK, supra.)

Opposition parties say that the new law will hurt democratic development in the country. According to Leonce Ngendakumana, who spoke after the lower house passed the bill and who heads the group of opposition parties collectively known as the Democratic Alliance for Change, “[t]he new law on parties adopted yesterday by the National Assembly seeks to reduce us to silence. … This new law will put at risk the democratic gains achieved at the cost of a long civil war in Burundi.” (AFP, supra.)