Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has launched a campaign to promote a referendum to change the constitution, a move that could see him rule until 2034.
“It’s the day you’ve been waiting for,” Nkurunziza told a crowd of thousands of farmers in the central district of Gitega on Tuesday.
The government adopted a plan in October to revise the constitution. The changes, if passed by the referendum, would enable Nkurunziza to serve another two seven-year terms from 2020.
Nkurunziza threatened those who sought to undermine the plebiscite, which is scheduled for early 2018.
“We take this opportunity to warn those who want to sabotage this project, whether by speech or actions,” Nkurunziza said. “It will be a red line.”
The start of the campaign comes a day after the government launched a fundraising drive for elections in 2020, presented as “voluntary” but condemned by a rights group as “organised robbery”.
Burundi plunged into crisis in 2015 when Nkrunziza ran for a controversial third term that he went on to win. Between 500 and 2,000 people are estimated to have died in the ensuing turmoil, according to varying tolls.
Opposition activists, forced into exile by the troubles, have already denounced a project they say will be the death knell of the 2000 Arusha peace agreement, which ended a 13-year civil war in which more than 300,000 people were killed.
The coalition of opposition parties, CNARED, called the campaign a “declaration of war” on Wednesday.
“With the launch of this campaign aimed at burying the Arusha Peace Agreement and securing a presidency for life, Pierre Nkurunziza has chosen to continue to set the country ablaze,” CNARED spokesman Pancrace Cimpaye said.