17 May 2018

Burundi: Limit President to Two Five-Year Terms, Says Burundi's Former Leader

A five-year term -- renewable once -- is enough, Burundi's former president Sylvestre Ntibantunganya says in a DW interview as Burundi decides on presidential terms in a constitutional referendum.

What message do you want to send to your compatriots voting in this constitutional referendum?

Sylvestre Ntibantunganya: My message is clear: Burundians should be able to express themselves as freely as possible -- in serenity, in security, which is guaranteed to everyone.

You ruled Burundi between 1994 and 1996. A "yes" vote in the current referendum would take the presidential term from five to seven years. Is that good?

I think, and I have always said, that a five-year term, renewable once, is enough if it comes from a consensus obtained through dialogue between people. I am in favor of limiting mandates to five years,

What is causing a great deal of concern is that current President Pierre Nkurunziza could end up with 14 more years in power, while the opposition are totally against even the five years that he is in the process of obtaining. What is your position on this?

I would not want to comment on that before the end of the referendum. But I have expressed to you my basic principle, which I have been saying for a long time: I am in favor of limiting mandates.

One point which worries human rights defenders is that it is impossible to extradite a citizen of Burundi for serious crimes. Is this a message to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has opened an investigation that could involve members of the government ?

The international courts come into play when, at national level, there is inability, incompetence, or a lack of will on the part of the national judiciary. I think that what we must always aim for is to effectively provide our country with a judiciary that is sufficiently independent, competent and equipped with all the necessary means to to be able to deal adequately with problems that arise.

Does this draft constitution provide you with an answer to your wish?

When you're building a country, it's an ongoing process. I started the fight for democracy in this country when I was very young -- I think I was barely 23. You need to know above all where you want to go, where you have to go. Even in advanced democracies such as the US, France and Germany, there are always changes made without anyone saying that democracy has come to an end. It's a continuous process of building and improving.

This interview was conducted by Frejus Quenum

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