The crisis, both within the ruling party and outside it, began early in 2007 when Hussein Radjabu, chairman of the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party, was sidelined.
Radjabu has played a central role from the time CNDD-FDD was a rebel group until it transformed itself into a political party. He was instrumental in the formation of President Pierre Nkurunziza's government, which took office in August 2005.
According to observers, he was the power behind the throne and wielded great influence over decisions on issues such as government appointments, the military, diplomatic services and public procurement.
It was therefore surprising when a CNDD-FDD congress in February, which Radjabu did not attend, replaced him with Jeremie Ngendakumana, a former ambassador to Kenya. Soon after, Radjabu's parliamentary immunity was withdrawn and in April, he was detained over claims of fomenting war.
Radjabu appeared in court on 29 May on charges of being a danger to the state, but another scheduled appearance on 15 June did not take place.
Government spokeswoman and information minister Hafsa Mossi declined to comment, saying the alleged crisis within the party had not become a concern for the government.
"At the level of the government they [the authorities] do not know the 'evolution' of this crisis; [it] is not yet a government issue," she said.
The president's spokesman, Leonidas Hatungimana, said the head of state enjoyed the support of CNDD-FDD members as he has the support of other Burundians. But an opposition politician in Bujumbura, who requested anonymity, denied this.
"It is obvious that the CNDD-FDD has split and has many problems; the first problem is Radjabu and his supporters," he said. "This is one of the four groups within the CNDD-FDD. The CNDD-FDD is undergoing an internal crisis; it lost its majority in parliament when 30 of its MPs left."
Need for reforms
In a briefing paper on Burundi's democratisation, the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER-Africa) said Radjabu's removal had not been followed by systematic reforms within the party; neither did it provide impetus to create a new leadership.
"The elimination of the political opposition has continued, and in some ways accelerated. The past months have been marked by exclusion of many prominent CNDD-FDD leaders, notably those with a civilian background," the May 2007 paper noted. "The question is, will this 'housecleaning' lead to a more responsible, effective governing party or simply a change of guard from one power centre to the next?"
CNDD-FDD spokesman Evariste Nsabiyumva dismissed talk of a crisis within the party. "For the time being, the CNDD-FDD is favouring political dialogue with all its partners," he said, referring to the Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU), the second-largest party.
According to the results of the 2005 elections, FRODEBU is entitled to five ministerial posts. But it has refused to join the government until talks are held on crucial issues such as human rights and corruption.
Nkurunziza's spokesman said the president had done his best to get FRODEBU into government. He confirmed that the president wrote to the FRODEBU chairman on 15 June requesting suggestions for the positions.
"The president had given FRODEBU until 18 June to forward the names," Hatungimana said. "FRODEBU replied to the letter on 21 June without providing names."
But FRODEBU spokesman Pancrace Cimpaye said the party was simply agitating for its constitutional rights. "We have no intention of provoking the ouster of the head of state; all we want is for the constitution to be respected," he said.
"FRODEBU's performance [in the 2005 elections] entitles it to a number of posts in the country's institutions, including the government," Cimpaye added. "It cannot propose names for ministerial posts that are not yet known."
Observers say urgent reforms are necessary. "Burundi is like a new car with a manufacturer's fault," said Jean-Marie Gasana, senior analyst with FEWER. "When you set the agenda for people without them owning the process, you get something that is working on paper but failing in reality.
"This is what is happening with regard to the Arusha agreement [signed by Burundian parties in 2000 in Tanzania], which guided the transition and agreement that CNDD-FDD signed with the government before elections in 2005," he explained.
A major setback for CNDD-FDD was the withdrawal of 30 members from its parliamentary group, reducing its majority and forcing it into a situation where it has to seek a coalition partner from other political parties in parliament.
One of those who quit said they were opposed to blatant violations of Burundi's constitution. "We are advocating for the rule of law, and respect of the agreements that led to the democratic elections of 2005," the MP said.
Another, Pascaline Kampayano, said: "I left CNDD-FDD because it does not respect the party's constitution. We have grouped ourselves under the Rassemblement pour un état de Droit [Rally for the Rule of Law] to ensure that CNDD-FDD adheres to the law," she said.
According to Burundian lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana, the government has been "in trouble" since the change of party leadership in February.
"We believe in democracy, members have the right to adhere to the party or leave it," he said. "MPs and senators who left the party have since February demonstrated their opposition to [its] ideals by disapproving of the outcome of the special convention, but those who stayed believe in it."
The party, he added, could be headed for more trouble if MPs from FRODEBU and those who quit CNDD-FDD's parliamentary group linked up to create an alliance to block government-sponsored bills.
What is worse, Niyoyankana said, was that the president cannot dissolve parliament, according to Article 302 of the Constitution.
"If the senate [the upper chamber of parliament], where the CNDD-FDD holds a comfortable majority, is unable to sit for lack of a quorum, the party is seriously weakened," Niyoyankana added, referring to a senate session that was put off three times recently as senators from FRODEBU and CNDD-FDD, allied to Radjabu, boycotted it.
Observers worry that the situation could lead to a vote of no-confidence in the government. But Nsabiyumva said while parliament had the right to pass a vote of no-confidence in the president, there was little chance of that given that the National Assembly (lower chamber) and the Senate (upper chamber) must sit in a joint session and pass it with a two-thirds majority.
"Unless the CNDD-FDD is behind the move, there is little chance that such a bill could pass," he said.
According to Niyoyankana, CNDD-FDD has two options: either to seek an alliance with other political parties represented in parliament and form a majority, or open the government to opposition parties.
"It would be a good opportunity for the ruling party to silence them," he said. Under Article 173 of the constitution, a party represented in the government cannot claim to be in the opposition.
Apart from CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU, the Union pour le Progrès national (UPRONA), the third-largest political party in parliament, is entitled to ministerial posts in government.
Critics said Nkurunziza included other political parties that did not have the constitutional right to posts in government, having won less than 5 percent of votes in 2005, including the Parti pour le redressement National (PARENA-Inkinzo) and the Mouvement pour la Réhabilitation du Citoyen (MRC), with one ministerial post each.
But the presidential spokesman said the constitution had been respected in the formation of the current government. "The constitution stipulates that every political party which got one-twentieth of the votes is entitled to a ministerial position, if it is willing to join government," Hatungimana said.
In 2006, FRODEBU decided to pull out of government but its three ministers preferred to remain in office, prompting the party to dismiss them. UPRONA, observers say, feels short-changed in the ministerial positions it is entitled to - one instead of two.
Alliances and opposition
"The question is not political alliances, but a dispute between a party which won elections and another one claiming its rights," UPRONA leader, Aloys Rukuba, told IRIN. "It may happen that the CNDD-FDD negotiates a 'partnership' to be able to reach a required quorum in parliament, but on the basis of some agreements."
Nkurunziza, he added, should have consulted all political parties when naming his government to respect constitutional provisions specifying what each party was entitled to in government.
"Partnership can make things move forward; the issue of quorum [in parliament] can alleviate problems but does not ensure tranquility of the state," he added, noting that UPRONA had not been approached on the possibility of forming an alliance.
"If CNDD-FDD approaches us, we will analyse their proposal to decide what stand to adopt," Rukuba explained. "Dialogue should involve all political parties represented in parliament [and] should bring together the head of state and leaders of political parties, especially those with a certain representation in the country's management."
Another issue facing the government, observers said, was the question of the Forces nationales de libération (FNL).
Led by Agathon Rwasa, the FNL is the only active rebel movement in the country, despite signing a ceasefire agreement with the government in September 2006.
On 17 June, Nkurunziza met Rwasa in Tanzania and agreed to reactivate a ceasefire agreement they signed in September 2006 and to free FNL members currently in prison in Burundi.
Critics say the agreement mainly addressed security issues but is silent on power-sharing arrangements, yet the FNL has indicated it wants a share of government positions.
Welcoming the agreement, the UN Security Council said: "The resumption of dialogue represents a major milestone on the way to peace consolidation in Burundi." It appealed for continued dialogue, consensus-building and inclusiveness.
Presidential spokesman Hatungimana, however, remained upbeat. "He [the president] cannot win the support of all Burundians because among them the bandits and embezzlers and the others are clinging on for their own interests," he said.