May 16, 2018 15:46 Asia/Tehran

Burundians go to the polls on 17 May for a controversial constitutional referendum to decide on changes that could extend the president’s term limits.

The changes to the constitution could potentially enable President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in power until 2034

 with an additional two terms of seven years. Nkurunziza has already been in power since 2005 and his 2015 bid for a third term in office led to bloodshed. There were protests, an attempted coup d’etat and crackdown by security forces with an estimated 1,200 people were killed. The International Criminal Court said it was investigating state-sponsored crimes against humanity in the country, however the government became the first country to withdraw from the war crimes court . Ahead of the constitutional referendum, the EU warned that the vote will take place in a persistent climate of intimidation and repression. The country’s Catholic bishops  said  they were opposed to the constitutional changes, saying it was not the appropriate time to make profound changes to the document. Furthermore, rights group Human Watch Rights said. the campaign for the referendum has been marred by violence. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Jean-Regis Nduwimana, a media analyst from Lake Tanganyika University.

The country is preparing for a referendum in a few days which could extend the term of Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has led the country since 2005, until 2034.

"It is not known who carried out the attacks, but some are blaming exiled opposition groups who are based outside Burundi and have vowed to disrupt the 17 May referendum.

"Critics say a cult of personality is developing around Mr Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader who was the first president to be chosen in democratic elections since the start of Burundi's civil war in 1994.

"A 'yes' vote in the referendum would allow him to stand for a further two seven-year terms from 2020.

Human Rights Watch blamed Burundi's government for a "political and human rights crisis" starting in 2015.

"Government forces targeted real and perceived opponents with near total impunity. Security forces and intelligence services—often collaborating with members of the ruling party's youth league, known as the Imbonerakure—were responsible for numerous killings, disappearances, abductions, acts of torture, rapes, and arbitrary arrests. Unknown assailants carried out grenade and other attacks, killing or injuring many people."