Burundi will have a new president after the country’s election commission declared the governing party candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye the winner of the May 20 poll, a result disputed by the opposition.
The electoral body, CENI, said Ndayishimiye, a former rebel commander and current secretary-general of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, garnered 67 percent of the votes cast.
Agathon Rwasa, leader of the opposition National Freedom Council (CNL), came a distant second receiving 24 percent of the vote, according to CENI.
More than four million Burundians cast their ballot in the election contested by seven candidates.
In a statement, CNL said the results announced by the electoral commission were “not credible”, adding “they were prefabricated and stemming from a massive fraud”. The opposition party, which has until Thursday to formally contest the result, claimed it won the vote and was going to challenge the outcome in court.
The Constitutional Court will declare the final election results on June 4. Ndayishimiye is expected to be sworn in for a seven-year term in late August when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s term ends.
Nkurunziza, who is retiring after 15 years in power in a move that caught many people by surprise, praised his successor.
“I warmly congratulate the president-elect General Major Evariste Ndayishimiye for his large victory, which confirms that the great majority of Burundians adhere to the projects and the values he embodies,” Nkurunziza said on his official Twitter account.
“We are privileged witnesses to history. May God bless Burundi!” the 55-year-old leader added.
Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in 2015 led to widespread violence that left at least 1,200 people dead and forced 400,000 to flee the landlocked Central African country.
Meanwhile, analysts say the result will not just be disputed by opposition candidates, but also by many voters.
“Some of the Burundians do not see this as a democratic transfer of power,” David Otto, a senior consultant at Global Risk Assessment, told Al Jazeera.
“They think power has just been given to General Evariste Ndayishimiye. The opposition have said they won the election by 58 percent or so.”
Foreign observers were absent from the poll after the Burundi government said observers arriving in the country would have to be quarantined for 14 days.
On Tuesday, the East African Community, a regional body, gave the election a clean bill of health, congratulating Burundi for holding “peaceful and successful” vote.
“The 2020 Burundi elections hold an iconic place in the history of the nation, marking this the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power. More significantly, the process was domestically driven through own funding,” it said in a statement.
“The peaceful conclusion of the electoral process will not only be a big win for the people of Burundi, but for the East African Community as a region.”
Rights groups, meanwhile, said the vote took place against a backdrop of continuing repression of the political opposition, independent media, and civil society.
“There were continued reports of killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings and disappearances of opposition members,” Rachel Nicholson, Great Lakes researcher at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.
“On election day itself, Burundians woke up to find all major social media sites blocked in a blatant violation of their rights to freedom of expression and access to information,” she said.
Ndayishimiye, 52, will inherit a country in economic freefall after donors imposed sanctions following the disputed polls in 2015. The country is also trying to recover from years of unrest.
Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 185th out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index.
More than 65 percent of Burundians live in poverty, with at least 55 percent of the country’s 11 million people chronically food insecure, according to the United Nations.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa