Democratisation & Elections

Electoral Reform and Elections Approved by the International Community

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Despite the lack of financial resources and a poorly educated population, Compaoré succeeded in progressively building a democratic system and republican institutions that were generally approved by the international community (159). Although not considered as complete, his steady democratization efforts were captured as such by the improvements in Freedom House’s indices of political rights and civil liberties (160).

From 2002 until Compaoré’s departure in 2014, except in 2005, the country met the two standards required to be considered a democracy according to the index applied by the Center for Global Development – a Freedom House score of 4 and a Polity IV score of 0 (161). Following Compaoré’s exit from power, the country’s Freedom House rating plumped (162).

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2013 democracy index ranked Burkina Faso 112th out of 167 countries, a rise from its 2012 ranking, meaning that it was now among the 10 countries in Africa considered to be under “hybrid regimes” but not plain democracies. This designation included countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

Presidential elections

In 1988, Compaoré introduced multi-party politics (163). Blaise Compaoré and 3 other opposition leaders were the running candidates for presidential elections. But at the very last moment, all candidates except Compaoré abandoned the principle of universal suffrage and rallied around the concept of national sovereign conference, a by France promoted alternative to election by universal suffrage (164). 25.28 % of the population cast their votes, among which 86.1 % voted in his favour (165).

But political life was vibrant and many political parties emerged from 1989 on. In 2008, 140 parties were enlisted (166). Faced with such political proliferation and dispersion, Blaise Compaoré had no difficulty in winning presidential elections in 1998, 2005 and 2010, each time with more than 80 % of the votes (167) and the election results were never challenged by the international community: International Crisis Group (168).

Electoral reforms

On February 5, 1996, Compaoré created the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) Party, by merging the ODP/MT with thirteen other parties. With the CDP, Compaoré went on to be re-elected in 1998 with 87.5 %, beating two opponents (169).

In 2000, in order to strengthen democracy, electoral reforms included the creation of a monitoring organization of the elections as well as changes to the electoral code such as a single ballot paper and a proportional representation for the legislative elections (170). A two-term presidency was reinstated, but the law was not retroactive, allowing Compaoré – who had already served two seven-year terms – to run for reelection in 2005 (171).

In 2005, running against thirteen candidates, Compaoré received 80.3 % of the votes. The candidate of the Union pour la Renaissance/Mouvement Sankariste (UNIR/MS) came second with 4.85 % of the votes (172).

“The efforts and progress made on the consolidation of democracy were commendable, with 140 listed political parties governed by a charter, and more than 100,000 associations”
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), 2008

But the APRM Report also identified as a major challenge the “omnipresent weight and domination of the majority, which seems to ‘block’ the democratic system and stifle multi-party politics.” The assessment called on the authorities to “provide appropriate responses and solutions to bring about the necessary change (173).”

Legal reforms in 2009 strengthened transparency and fairness (174). Equal chance of the presidential candidates should be guaranteed in the future by the new composition of the National Independent Election Body (CENI): 5 members from the political majority, 5 members from the opposition, and 5 members from the civil society; 1 representative of a human rights association, 1 representative of the Roman Catholic church, 1 of the Protestant church, 1 representative of the Muslim community and 1 traditional chief. The CENI’s President is from now on elected among CENI’s 5 non-political members by its 15 members (175).

A biometric electoral roll was introduced. The right to vote in presidential elections and referendums was extended to Burkinabè living abroad, but not until the 2015 presidential elections. The electoral process improved thanks to these 2009 reforms. Unfortunately, Burkina’s citizens living abroad were excluded from the 2015 elections by the transitional government.

In 2010, Compaoré faced six opponents. He was re-elected, for the fourth time receiving 80.2 % of the votes (176).

Last Parliamentary and Municipal Elections during the Compaoré era

The introduction of a biometric electoral roll aimed to increase precision of the election process and to prevent election fraud, but it only included 4.4 million voters out of an estimated total of more than 8 million voters (177).

The 2012 parliamentary and municipal elections were generally considered free by domestic and international observers. The elections were strengthened by a modern elections system. The opposition claimed that the ruling party still possessed privileged access to state resources (178).

The following parties participated in the 2012 legislative elections:

  • African Democratic Rally/Alliance for Democracy and Federation or ADF/RDA (Gilbert Noel OUEDRAOGO)
  • African People’s Movement or MAP (Victorien TOUGOUMA)
  • Congress for Democracy and Progress or CDP (Assimi KOUANDA)
  • Le Faso Autrement (Ablassé OUEDRAOGO)
  • Organization for Democracy and Work or ODT (Mahamoudou SAWADOGO)
  • Party for Democracy and Progress-Socialist Party or PDP-PS (Francois O. KABORE)
  • Party for Democracy and Socialism/Metba or PDS/Metba (Philippe OUEDRAOGO)
  • Party for National Renaissance or PAREN (Tahirou BARRY)
  • Rally for Democracy and Socialism or RDS (Francois OUEDRAOGO)
  • Rally for the Development of Burkina or RDB (Celestin Saidou COMPAORE)
  • Rally of Ecologists of Burkina Faso or RDEB (Adama SERE)
  • Union for Progress and Change or UPC (Zephirin DIABRE)
  • Union for Rebirth – Sankarist Movement or UNIR-MS (Benewende Stanislas SANKARA)
  • Union for the Republic or UPR (Toussaint Abel COULIBALY)
  • Youth Alliance for the Republic and Independence or AJIR (Adama KANAZOE)

In December 2012, Compaoré’s party – the CDP – gained 70 seats in the 127-seat unicameral national assembly. In total, pro-Compaoré parties controlled 97 seats. The next two largest parties – ADF/RDA and the new UPC – won 19 seats each. Ten other parties took up the 38 remaining seats. Compaoré’s CDP also won 320 out of 359 town councils (179).

Following the 2011 crisis, the outcome of the 2012 elections showed the CDP’s continuous strength. The UPC became the main opposition party, confirming the emergence of a new political opposition party, the Union pour le Progrès et le Changement (UPC), founded in 2010 by Compaoré’s former finance minister Zéphirin Diabré (180).

The Opposition

The 1991 Constitution guarantees the right to form political parties (181). More than 140 parties were formed, but until the legislative elections of 2012, not one party really emerged except for Compaoré’s CDP (182).

In 2012, the UPC became the main opposition party and one of the three largest in the country (183). In the last legislature until its dissolution in October 2014, thirteen parties were represented (184).

Until the participation of the UPC in the 2012 elections, the fragmentation of political life – due to an explosion of active political parties in Burkina Faso – was the main handicap of the opposition (185). In addition, it lacked money, campaign staff and local representation. As the International Crisis Group points out in its 2013 report on Burkina Faso:

“This skills shortage makes it difficult for the opposition to formulate new ideas or draft a realistic and coherent program (186)”.
International Crisis Group, 2013

While Sankara remained a symbol of integrity among the populations, the neo-Sankarist parties – the largest of which is Bénéwendé Sankara’s UNIR/PS – never managed to win the people’s votes (187). Four neo-Sankarist presidential candidates participated in 2005, but all together they did not obtain 10% of the votes. During the legislative elections of 2012, the Union pour la Renaissance/Parti Sankariste (UNIR/PS) won four seats in the 127-seats legislature. Even after the 2014 October revolution, they only managed to obtain 3 seats in the 127-seats legislature (188).

In the 2015 presidential elections, the neo-Sankarist parties had no candidate (189).