Country Risk

Burundian president likely to stand for re-election despite “pledge to step down”, increasing coup risks beyond 2018

13 June 2018
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza signs a new constitution adopted by a referendum, in Gitega, Burundi, on 7 June. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Despite the statement, President Pierre Nkurunziza remains likely to stand for re-election in 2020, which would allow him to continue in office until 2027 (and potentially 2034 following another election).
  • Nkurunziza is likely seeking a rapprochement with donor nations, with the aim of restoring budget assistance and ending targeted sanctions, as well as identifying ‘threats’ to his government in the form of would-be successors.
  • Failure by Nkurunziza to restore budget assistance and end targeted sanctions would increase coup risks towards 2020.


On 7 June, Burundi's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, after earlier that day promulgating a new constitution permitting him to remain in office until 2034, made a statement widely reported as an assurance that he will not stand for re-election in 2020, when his current term ends.

President Nkurunziza’s Kirundi (Burundian language) wording in the statement contained significant ambiguity, which, IHS Markit assesses, positions him as likely to seek re-election in 2020. In the statement, he reaffirmed a pledge made during his 2015 inauguration speech to “respect the decision of the Constitutional Court regarding this final mandate which you have just given me”. This was followed by the comment, “We will not go back on our word. Our mandate ends in 2020. As for me, I commit and prepare myself to support… the new president that we will elect in 2020.”

The Constitutional Court decision he referred to, allowing him to stand for one more term in 2015, took place before, and does not apply to, the newly promulgated constitution that now permits Nkurunziza to stand for re-election, despite his current term ending in 2020. (The new constitution was approved by a referendum and was signed by President Nkurunziza on 7 June). Additionally, since as early as 2015, Nkurunziza has stated that he could still stand again despite his pledge.

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