KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Its president dead, Burundi on Thursday turned to the constitutional court to help fill the power vacuum ahead of the expected August swearing-in of the president-elect chosen in May’s election.

The abrupt death of President Pierre Nkurunziza this week of what the government called a heart attack has left the East African nation with new uncertainty after a 15-year rule marked by deadly repression.

Evariste Ndayishimiye won the election as the ruling party candidate, but Pascal Nyabenda, the speaker of the national assembly, was said to be Nkurunziza’s preferred successor.

Nyabenda could be installed as interim president until August. Ndayishimiye could be sworn in right away, but “this is a question that was not provided for by the constitution” and one the court could consider, said Burundian lawyer and activist Janvier Bigirimana.

Thursday’s emergency meeting of the council of ministers decided to formally notify the court of the vacant post and await its guidance.

Nkurunziza died Monday after falling ill on Saturday and hours of efforts to revive him failed, the government said. He was last seen in public watching a volleyball match on Saturday.

The government has not responded to questions on whether Nkurunziza died of COVID-19. His administration had been accused of not taking the pandemic seriously as it cited “divine protection” and allowed large campaign rallies ahead of the election.

Photos of Thursday's meeting posted on social media showed the country's ministers not wearing face masks.

The council of ministers noted Burundi's seven days of official mourning and decided that activities should continue as normal, though “everyone should understand the particular circumstances in which the country finds itself.”

Keeping that in mind, the statement said, all music in bars, nightclubs and karaoke is suspended until the official mourning is over.


Kaneza reported from Nairobi, Kenya.