Burundi’s ruling party reaffirmed its loyalty to President Pierre Nkurunziza on Tuesday, saying that he was a “visionary” and that it would work to implement his ideas, ahead of a referendum that could extend his rule for at least a decade.
The small and impoverished Central Africa nation has been rocked by insecurity since 2015, when Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office that his opponents said was unconstitutional.
The country is due to hold a referendum in May on whether to amend the constitution to extend presidential terms to seven years from five. The proposed changes would limit the president to two consecutive terms but would not take into account previous terms, potentially extending Nkurunziza’s rule to 2034.
Evariste Ndayishimiye, secretary general of the ruling CNDD-FDD, told a press conference in the capital Bujumbura that the party had decided to give Nkurunziza the title of “CNDD-FDD Party Visionary” after appraising his ideas and teachings.
The title has no specific role attached to it and appeared to be aimed at shoring up support for the president ahead of the referendum.
Ndayishimiye said the party has also started “working on his ideas”.
On social media, some Burundians said the announcement was likely a step toward Nkurunziza seeking a life presidency.
Several leaders around Africa have sought to void laws or use other tactics to thwart opponents and prolong their reigns beyond constitutional limits, sometimes for decades.
Those who opposed Nkurunziza’s third five-term launched an armed struggle against his government, and the resulting violence has left hundreds dead and forced at least 400,000 people into exile.
Regional efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict have dragged on without results so far.