- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2020

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) - The candidate of Burundi’s ruling party, Evariste Ndayishimiye, has been declared the winner of the country’s presidential election.

Ndayishimiye won with 69% of the vote in the election which took place on May 20, the country’s election commission announced Monday. Because he garnered more than 50% of the vote, Ndayishimiye will not have to go to a runoff election and he is expected to be inaugurated in August.

Ndayishimiye, 52, will succeed President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005. Both are from Burundi’s ruling party which has said Nkurunziza will have the title “Supreme Guide” after he steps down from the presidency. Many believe that Nkurunziza will wield considerable influence over the new president.

Seven candidates contested the election in which ballots were cast by more than 4 million voters of Burundi’s 11 million people, according to the election commission.

The candidate coming in second place was Agathon Rwasa, leader of the opposition CNL, who got 24% of the vote, according to the election commission.

Rwasa said that the elections were marred by fraud with some districts reporting more votes than the number of registered voters. Rwasa also condemned the government’s action to block social media on polling day, saying it could have encouraged election fraud.

“We fully reject and protest these results because we know very well our party won,” Aime Magera, a representative of Rwasa’s CNL party told The Associated Press. Magera claimed his party won with 57% of the vote.

“We will go to court to challenge this,” Magera said.

Some observers worry that disputed results could lead to the kind of violence that marked the previous vote in 2015.

Ndayishimiye has been serving as the ruling party’s secretary-general and is an ally of Nkurunziza. He dropped out of university to fight alongside Nkurunziza in Burundi’s civil war. He later served as minister of interior.

“Ndayishimiye has worked for unity for many years and many Burundians have decided to give him chance,” said Desire Manirakiza in Gitega, Burundi’s capital city.

Ndayishimiye is known for consulting the viewpoint of others but many political analysts say he is not expected to take any decisions different from Nkurunziza.

“He will be a clown,” said Jean Baptiste Bireha, a Burundian journalist who is in exile.

Outgoing leader Nkurunziza surprised many when he agreed to step down last year. Early this year parliament agreed to award him with $530,000 and a luxury villa as well as his honorary title.

Nkurunziza rose to power in 2005 following the signing of the Arusha accords ending a 13-year civil war that killed about 300,000 people.

He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote. He then claimed he was eligible for a third term in 2015 - a move that critics called unconstitutional.

Street demonstrations erupted against Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. The deadly turmoil that followed badly damaged global relations, and Burundi became the first country to leave the International Criminal Court after it started investigating allegations of abuses.

The U.N. human rights office reported more than 300 extrajudicial killings and was kicked out of the country. Burundi’s government has denied allegations it targets its people.

Recently the Burundi government expelled the representative of the World Health Organization.

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