[This guest post is part of a series on Burkina Faso’s 2015 Elections. My colleague Daniel Eizenga, a Research Associate with the Sahel Research Group and Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Florida, has been based in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou since August 2015 conducting dissertation research. He has generously offered to share his observations from the ground as the elections take place. Readers and journalists may contact Dan at: deizenga at ufl dot edu. – Alex]
Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 8:33 AM UTC
On Sunday, November 29th somewhere close to sixty percent of registered voters cast their ballots in Burkina Faso’s presidential and legislative elections. Reports from around the country, and in the international media praised the free, fair, transparent and peaceful electoral process. While the results of the legislative elections are still being tallied, just after midnight on the 1st of December the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) announced that the preliminary results gave Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès (MPP) just over 53 percent of the votes cast in the presidential poll.
Kaboré avoided heading to a runoff election by securing a majority, catching a number of analysts both Burkinabè and international, myself included, by surprise. Most of those following the election assumed a second round would need to take place between Kaboré and his closest rival the Union pour le Progrès et le Changement’s (UPC) candidate, Zéphirin Diabré. Even more surprising is how effectively the MPP won its majority. Diabré received slightly less than thirty percent of the vote according to the CENI and some quick electoral math demonstrates that the UPC trailed the MPP by a large margin—more than 23 points.
Out of the twelve other presidential candidates the next largest percentage—just over three percent—went to Tahirou Barry, a young lawyer who entered the political circuit following the popular insurrection of October 2014. Longtime Compoaré-opponent and leader of the Union pour le Renaissance – Parti Sankariste, Bénéwendé Sankara, fell to fourth place, winning just under three percent. No other candidate received more than two percent of the vote. Prior to the elections many people guessed that these would be the top four candidates, but few assumed that the large pool of presidential hopefuls would hurt the UPC more than the MPP. Hindsight, it seems, remains 20/20.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the MPP is composed almost entirely of former CDP members. The CDP is the former ruling party which was barred from presenting a presidential candidate in this election because it supported former president Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to modify the constitution to remain in power. When the MPP leadership resigned from the CDP in early 2014, alongside some 75 other CDP members, they brought significant human and financial resources with them. Fast-forward through the popular insurrection which forced Compaoré to resign and the subsequent political transition during which the CDP lost a significant amount of its political influence, and it becomes clear that the MPP became the logical home for many politicians jumping ship from the sinking CDP. Since the CDP permeated the entire country under Compaoré, the ability of the MPP to incorporate even a portion of the CDP’s network meant it held a strong advantage nationally over the other parties.
The leaders of the MPP held another important factor for winning the vote in the countryside: political recognition. Kaboré, as a member of the CDP and during Blaise Compaoré’s tenure as president, held the positions of Prime Minister, President of the National Assembly and more recently the President of the CDP. As a neighbor of mine explained, “For those in the countryside who spent their entire lives voting for Blaise, the change to Kaboré makes sense because they already know him. He was with Blaise. As Zéph[irin Diabré] said, a vote for Kaboré is a vote for continuity through change.” While my neighbor is not entirely unbiased, her point, I think, is valid. Since its leaders previously held several government positions, the MPP successfully campaigned on its ability to run the country and maintain stability. For those in the countryside with little interest in the politics of Ouaga, a vote for Roch was the closest option to a vote for Blaise.
Still, the MPP will face some immediate and long-term challenges now that its fight for the presidential palace is coming to a close. Many of their specific policy proposals such as creating teaching positions for all unemployed persons holding a certain level of education, are targeted at ameliorating rampant unemployment, especially amongst the growing population of urban youth. These policies will take time to implement and will undoubtedly face challenges along the way. Consequently, the ability of the MPP to appease the immediate demands of an urban youth which now has the experience of creating political change by taking to the streets, will be paramount in the next few months and years. It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Kaboré and his MPP co-leaders’ past connections to the former regime quickly transform into a political liability in eyes of an urban youth movement.
Another challenge will be the ability of the MPP to organize an effective government and form productive coalitions at the Nation Assembly. Thanks to a massive effort from the CENI and the additional hi-tech observation of an informed and active civil society, the electoral process advanced without significant irregularities giving Burkina Faso, arguably, the best organized elections in its history. In light of this, nearly all of the presidential candidates opted for offering their congratulations to MPP and Kaboré rather than contesting the preliminary results. That does not mean, however, that establishing legislative coalitions will proceed as smoothly.
Results for the legislative seats continue to be counted today, but an interesting trend to follow will be the performance of the CDP in the elections. According to local radio station, Omega FM, as of 7 AM this morning preliminary results from the CENI show the CDP to be the third largest party in the National Assembly behind the MPP in the lead and the UPC in second. Importantly, no single political party holds a majority of seats, but there still remains 28 seats for which the preliminary votes have not yet been tallied. A online local media outlet stated the remaining seats belong to the provinces of Kadiogo (Ouagadougou’s province) and Gnagna, as well as the National seats. If the proportion of seats remains the same as the final 28 seats are decided, the role of the CDP will be both important and potentially disruptive in the National Assembly.
The chances of an MPP-CDP legislative alliance appear to be remote, given that the MPP effectively rose to power by undercutting the political support of the CDP. Yet, the two parties share ideological positions, policies, and a political history. Alternatively, the UPC which is the natural leader of an opposition under a MPP majority, previously led the opposition when the CDP was in power and stands to gain very little politically from any kind of cooperation with the CDP. All of a sudden, it seems that every seat counts in a previously lopsided National Assembly.
In its worst possible outcome this could lead to political deadlock featuring votes of no confidence and failed attempts at consensus politics. But in the best potential outcome it could mean the legislature receives more political bargaining power and importance in a political system which has historically been dominated by the executive.
Despite the first round presidential victory for the MPP, these initial legislative results point to an increasingly plural and potentially competitive political system in Burkina Faso. We cannot know for sure until the final counts are in, but in the meantime it’s possible to think that Burkinabè citizens may see both continuity and change in their political future.