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Burundians head to polls as parliament head quits, slams president

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A member of Burundi's National Electoral Commission counts ballot boxes at a warehouse used to store electoral material for the upcoming parliamentary elections, in the neighbourhood of Nyakabiga near the capital Bujumbura, 28 June 2015. Reuters/Paulo Nunes dos Santos

Around 4 million Burundians are expected to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections on Monday to replace members of the National Assembly and the country's city councils. The vote comes after a weekend of fresh clashes which left three people dead. The violence led on Sunday to the defection of the leader of parliament, who urged President Pierre Nkurinziza to quit.

"I would like to say to him (Nkurunziza) that the mandate he wants to have is illegal." It was in these words that Pie Ntavyohanyuma, Burundi's defected parliament leader, explained to broadcasters at France 24 why he was fleeing to Belgium: to put an end to what he considers a "senseless" election.

It's an election that very nearly didn't happen, and one which the opposition and the international community desperately wants to postpone.

"There is no consensus," Frederic Bamvuginyumvira, leader of opposition party Burundi's Democratic Front (FRODEBU), told RFI.

"All of the mediators have said there is no consensus, and that the elections should be pushed back at least to July 30th to enable the 100,000 refugees that have fled the country to return to vote."

But President Nkurinziza has defied international criticism to seek a third term despite weeks of protest that triggered a failed coup attempt and a deep refugee crisis. Even the prospect of losing international donor support has not weakened his resolve.

"He wants to avoid a political vacuum, that could harm his prospects," Cara Jones, a political science professor from Mary Baldwin College in Florida, explained to RFI.

Yet this latest high-ranking defection by the head of parliament   only two days after the vice president stepped down on Friday   is a sign that the party is hemorrhaging, Jones said.

Observers fear it's the entire country that could implode if Nkurinziza's third term bid goes through, and there are strong chances that he will be re-elected on 15 July as all of the opposition has boycotted, claiming the conditions for a fair vote have not been met. And the African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma agrees.

Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates the Arusha peace accords that ended 13 years of civil war in 2006.

The remnants of that conflict are already palpable. Three more people were killed overnight Saturday, adding to the more than 70 killed in weeks of violence. What was before a sad legacy is becoming day by day a sad reality.

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