Politicians boycotting the presidential election here dismissed the results as a sham on Wednesday and denounced the president after a vote in which only one candidate — the incumbent — stood for office.
The election had long been anticipated as a landmark for peace after years of civil war, but it was rocked by accusations of fraud, a series of deadly grenade attacks and the withdrawal of the opposition. Diplomats worry that Burundi could be heading toward a political impasse, raising the prospect of de facto single-party rule in a nation that has been heralded as a nascent democracy.
The band of opposition parties and figures, including a former rebel leader and an award-winning journalist, refused to recognize the government and said they would not participate in parliamentary elections later this summer. They said voters had been intimidated by soldiers and the police into casting ballots and called Monday’s presidential vote a “masquerade.”
“It was a joke,” said Pancrace Cimpaye, a spokesman for the Front for Democracy in Burundi, one of the country’s largest opposition parties. “We do not accept anything.”
The vote — part of Burundi’s first national elections since the last of the major rebel groups agreed to enter the political process — essentially became a referendum on President Pierre Nkurunziza after all the other candidates had dropped out. Mr. Nkurunziza was declared the victor on Wednesday, winning a second five-year term.
The opposition parties have accused Mr. Nkurunziza’s party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, of rigging local elections in May, leading them to boycott the presidential contest this week and the parliamentary vote to come.
But observers from the European Union and civil society groups said that Monday’s election and the vote in May were largely fair and reflected the will of the people, arguing that the opposition had overestimated how well it would do in the local contests in May. Beyond that, the government has accused the opposition of carrying out the grenade attacks in an effort to discourage people from going to the polls.
Diplomats and analysts warn that if the boycott continues, a constitutional crisis could ensue because the opposition is legally required to be represented in government. They also worry that without opposition involvement, Burundi could become more of a lopsided state, with few checks on power.
Burundi is an often overlooked but integral part of the Great Lakes region in Africa. For generations, it has suffered the same ethnic tensions that ripped apart Rwanda in 1994, and has been used as a back door for rebel groups fighting in eastern Congo. The country is just now recovering from an on-again, off-again civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Monday’s presidential vote was expected to be a showdown between Mr. Nkurunziza and Agathon Rwasa, the leader of a popular Hutu resistance movement that disarmed last year, helping to bring a tentative peace to the country.
Instead, Mr. Nkurunziza was left as the only candidate on the ballot and Mr. Rwasa disappeared, saying from an undisclosed location that he believed the government wanted to arrest him.
Grenades have thundered through Bujumbura, Burundi’s laid-back capital on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, and the green hills surrounding it, killing politicians and intimidating voters in opposition neighborhoods. Opposition parties have been banned from meeting by the government in recent weeks, and dozens of politicians have been arrested.
In the meantime, a tentative alliance has formed between large Hutu political parties and Bujumbura’s intellectual elite, led by Alexi Sinduhije, a former journalist who was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people in 2008.
Despite its turmoil, many diplomats and civil society groups say Burundi has true democratic credentials. The country has over 40 political parties, independent news media and a small but feisty civil society. In the election, media houses have teamed up to provide independent and synchronized broadcasts.
The international community has hoped Burundi, wedged between warring Congo and strongly-ruled Rwanda, could be an example in the region. But Burundi remains armed to the teeth, and security is shaky.
Over the last few years, tit-for-tat violence between political parties has killed scores of political activists. Judges have been kidnapped, and an influential whistle-blower was stabbed in the back on the streets of Bujumbura. A researcher for Human Rights Watch was ejected from the country in May for chronicling the crimes.
In the past, members of Burundi’s civil society, including Mr. Sinduhije, have brought attention to human rights violations, but watchdogs fear authoritarianism and corruption will grow in Burundi if the governing party is left unchecked.
“A lot of people had hopes that Burundi would be a leader in the region,” said Neela Ghoshal, the researcher from Human Rights Watch, currently in Kenya. “In practice, states controlled by a single party are restricted in civil and political liberties,” Ms. Ghoshal added. “But that is not inevitable.”