BUJUMBURA - Five of the main challengers to Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza in this month's upcoming elections pulled out of the race yesterday over rigging allegations.
Among the five previously declared candidates who officially withdrew their bids from the electoral commission in Bujumbura is Agathon Rwasa, the leader of the former rebel National Liberation Forces (FNL) and Nkurunziza's main rival.
"I came to withdraw my candidacy in the June 28 presidential poll because I refuse to take part in a fraudulent election whose results are already decided," Rwasa said.
The five candidates had last week called for the resignation of the electoral commission after May 24 local elections in which they claim Nkurunziza's ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy - Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) rigged its way to overwhelming victory.
The CNDD-FDD won the local elections with 64percent of the vote, way ahead of the FNL who got 14percent. The main opposition parties denounced "massive rigging by the ruling party" in the vote and called for it to be annulled.
The local polls were the first stage in a four-month electoral marathon crucial for this small central African country struggling to emerge from more than a decade of war.
The only two candidates still in the running are Nkurunziza, now the firm favourite, and the country's first deputy president, Yves Sahinguvu, standing for the main Tutsi party Uprona.
"The FNL and all the opposition parties that dispute the results of the May 24 local elections have decided to pull out from the rest of the ongoing electoral process," Rwasa said.
"It's an irrevocable decision. Unless the electoral commission decides to annul the local election and organise a new one, we are not going to go back into the process to give our support to cheating," the former rebel chief said.
The five former candidates all arrived at the same time at the commission's headquarters in Bujumbura in a convoy of 20 cars.
"We're calling on the international community that financed both the peace process and the electoral process in Burundi to take note of the massive fraud and to intervene to save this country from disaster," one of the candidate Alexis Sinduhije said. - Sapa-AFP