First Thoughts on Burkina Faso’s Legislative Elections Results

Burkina Faso held presidential and legislative elections on November 22. Incumbent President Roch Kaboré won the presidential elections, but I need to gather a bit more data (and gather my thoughts a bit more) before attempting to say anything substantive about that side of the results. So today I’ll speak briefly to the legislative picture.

Heading into the elections, according to Wikipedia, the three largest parties in the 127-member unicameral legislature were as follows:

  • Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (French acronym MPP): 55 seats
  • Zéphirin Diabré’s Union for Progress and Change (UPC): 33 seats
  • The former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP): 18 seats

The results from the 2020 legislative elections leave the MPP’s share of seats effectively unaltered – the party gained 1 seat for a new total of 56. The CDP gained 2 seats and also moved into the second spot in the National Assembly, because the UPC lost 21 seats, falling to just 12 seats, and actually slipped into fourth place in the legislature. The new third-place party is called New Time (or perhaps New Era or New Moment) for Democracy, NTD. It won just 3 seats in the previous elections in 2015, and now has 13. No other party holds more than 5 seats.

Two initial observations:

The first observation is that although the MPP does not hold a majority, its near-majority and the fragmentation of the opposition should make it relatively easy for the presidency and the MPP to pass major legislation. Several indicators – among them the lopsided 107-9 vote in favor of a revised electoral code last August; as well as the speed and apparent equanimity with which opposition candidates congratulated Kaboré following his win – suggest to me that the MPP’s strength in the legislature and in Burkinabè politics goes beyond what the numbers alone might indicate.

The second observation, and this requires more data and analysis to flesh out, is that the MPP held its own, electorally, in Burkina Faso’s conflict zones. Just looking at the Sahel Region, the deadliest conflict zone in the country, the MPP did not do too badly. Sahel has four provinces, and here is how the MPP did (based on numbers aggregated here, which may be an unstable link since it’s a live results roundup):

  • Ouadalan: 1 out of the 2 seats
  • Séno: 1 out of the 2 seats
  • Soum: 1 out of the 2 seats
  • Yagha: 0 out of the 2 seats

The MPP did better in the Sahel Region than any other party (NTD won 2 of the Sahel’s 8 seats, the UPC won 1, and minor parties won 1 each). If, again, the Wikipedia page is to be trusted and if I am reading it correctly, then in 2015 the MPP won 1 seat in each of the 4 provinces of the Sahel Region, meaning that in 2020 it held 3 seats and lost 1 (in Yagha). I can’t speak yet to the impact of voter disenfranchisement (de facto or de jure), potential issues of fraud, etc., but on superficial examination the conflict does not appear to have cost the MPP electorally in 2020. And recall that even if the MPP lost 1 seat in the Sahel Region, it held 3 there while gaining 2 elsewhere in the country.

The 2020 legislative results deserve much deeper examination but one implication could be that electoral politics is not, in the Sahel (now referring not to one region in Burkina Faso but to the wider, multi-country region of Africa), generating the incentive structures it is theoretically supposed to around the world: the MPP, it seems, has no major electoral incentive to pay closer attention to the conflict zones.

On the Campaign Trail in Burkina Faso, Opposition Candidates Promise Dialogue with Jihadists, Kaboré Says No

Burkina Faso will hold the first round of its presidential (and legislative) elections on November 22, in other words very soon. A colleague sent me this story, in which the runner-up from the last election, Zéphirin Diabré, was speaking to a rally in the capital Ouagadougou as he campaigns once again. He is paraphrased and quoted as follows:

To put Burkina Faso back on the rails, Zéphirin Diabré proposes negotiation with certain armed groups. “Among these groups, which are the ones who have demands that are negotiable? While sorting through, there are people with whom, of course, one can talk.

Given that some of the country’s communal militias, or whatever ones wishes to call them, are already in dialogue with the state (or are working under the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland), the clear implication would seem to be that Diabré is open to negotiating with some jihadists – perhaps the Burkinabé group Ansaroul Islam/Ansar al-Islam (Defenders of Islam) or the Mali-centric Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, JNIM); the latter has conducted limited negotiations with successive Malian governments, especially over the hostage/prisoner exchange that concluded in early October of this year. The idea of negotiating with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) has not been seriously floated in Mali, and it is unlikely that Diabré has them in mind here, though it is still possible.

Here is another major candidate, Eddie Komboïgo of the former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), promising in generic terms to turn the security situation around through dialogue:

In the weeks that follow our election, you are not going to hear a gunshot inside our borders. Because we are going to courageously negotiate with the different forces of evil.

Another (more minor) candidate, Do Pascal Sessouma of the Pacifist Party, has also talked along these lines. Here he is in a November 5 interview:

On the question of terrorism my position is clear. I will negotiate with those who are attacking us. I am among those who think that it is not by cannon shots that one triumphs over an ideology. I think I would be able to bring back peace and security in 18 months through a holistic and inclusive approach.

These are the three examples I’ve seen. I imagine there are others among the 12 opposition candidates who are taking similar stances.

The proposals are short on details, but they represent a shift in the political debate amid an insurgency that continues to worsen:

President Roch Kaboré, facing re-election, says absolutely not (speaking from Dédougou, November 17):

We will not negotiate with those who have, as a project, dismantling Burkina Faso and jeopardizing our coexistence.

Assuming (as I do, at least) that Kaboré will win, it will be interesting and consequential to see whether the idea of dialogue maintains any traction after the dust settles from the election.

Looking Ahead to Burkina Faso’s 22 November Presidential and Legislative Elections

On 22 November (as announced in February), Burkina Faso will have simultaneous presidential and legislative elections. The presidential election will pit incumbent President Roch Kaboré against what I assume will be a host of challengers. The legislative elections will determine the occupants of the 127 seats in the country’s unicameral National Assembly. Municipal elections will follow in 2021.

Kaboré was elected in 2015 following the country’s 2014 revolution against longtime dictator Blaise Compaoré (in office 1987-2014). Kaboré and several other key figures, most notably Salif Diallo (d. 2017) and Simon Compaoré (no relation to Blaise that I know of), broke with Compaoré in 2012 and formed their own party, the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès (People’s Movement for Progress, MPP) in 2014. Simon Compaoré is currently president of the MPP.

Kaboré may be in a bit of trouble in terms of re-election prospects. Objectively, the situation in Burkina Faso appears quite bad on several fronts: 2019 was the most violent year of the country’s ongoing insurgency, and in addition to the conflict zones in the north and east, violence may be poised to tick upwards in the southwest, site of a recent joint operation between the security forces of Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. Largely due to the conflict, over 900,000 people have been displaced, most of them since the start of 2019. The security forces are accused of committing regular and serious human rights abuses against civilians, and the government is formally investigating the recent, alleged extrajudicial killings of 12 civilians in an eastern town called Tanwalbougou. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on the country, especially the economy – the World Bank (.pdf, p. 105) initially projected that Burkina Faso’s gross domestic product (GDP) would grow by 6% in 2020, but has since revised that forecast to just 2%.

In the national Présimètre poll, whose most recent iteration just came out, clear and sometimes dramatic majorities of respondents voice dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of key issues. On Slide 24, for example, 79.7% of respondents express dissatisfaction with the security situation in the country, and 83% are dissatisfied with the cost of living. Not everything is bad news for the government – on Slide 30, you can see that respondents’ confidence in key institutions is ticking upward after hitting a low in the June 2019 poll. But confidence is still under 40% for the government, the parliament, and the political parties. Furthermore, 73% of respondents plan to vote in the next election (Slide 32), but over 65% of respondents have not yet decided whom to vote for (Slide 34). 63% of respondents are dissatisfied with Kaboré’s performance (Slide 40), compared with 66% who were dissatisfied a year ago. Although respondents acknowledge that Kaboré inherited a tough situation, they also feel he “lacks the firmness that is required.” The average score that respondents gave his overall performance, on a 10-point scale, was 4.53 – his lowest score yet, in iterations of the Présimètre poll, since 2017.

Nevertheless, and perhaps quite expectedly, the MPP’s Simon Compaoré expresses confidence that Kaboré will win re-election easily. In a recent interview, Compaoré called it “a realistic ambition” to re-elect Kaboré “with a comfortable score of at least 60% of the votes.” That would mean avoiding the type of run-off that has proven electorally fatal for several West African incumbents over the years, for example Senegal’s Abdou Diouf in 2000 and Diouf’s successor Abdoulaye Wade, in turn, in 2012. Like many other West African countries, Burkina Faso has a two-round election system; if the incumbent fails to obtain 50% in the first round, it gives the (often fractured) opposition a chance to unite against him (it’s always been a him in Burkina Faso, so far) in the second round.

A few challengers have emerged so far:

  • Zéphirin Diabré, president of the Union for Progress and Change (l’Union pour le progrès et le changement, UPC), runner-up in the 2015 election;
  • Eddie Komboïgo, candidate of the former ruling party the Congress for Democracy and Progress (Congrès pour la démocratie et la progrès, CDP);
  • Gilbert Ouédraogo, president of the political party The Alliance for Democracy and Federation/African Democracy Rally (l’Alliance pour la démocratie et la fédération/Rassemblement démocratique africain, ADF/RDA);
  • Former Culture and Tourism Minister Tahirou Barry, who is supported by a coalition of parties called the Movement for Change and Rebirth (Mouvement pour le changement et la renaissance).

In the legislature, the MPP hopes to increase its share from the current 55 seats it has (out of 127). The UPC holds 33, the CDP 18, and no other party holds more than 5 seats.

The MPP is now looking ahead to its extraordinary congress on July 11, when it will formally invest Kaboré as the party’s candidate.

Various questions remain to be settled: Will the displaced be able to vote, and if so, how? Will credible voting be able to proceed in conflict zones? Will any candidacies be invalidated, and on what basis? Will a unifying figure emerge from within the opposition?

For now, if I had to predict, I would guess that Kaboré will be re-elected – despite the very low scores he and the government received in the Présimètre poll, I think that the advantages of incumbency, combined with the fragmentation of the opposition, will help him across the finish line. I also think he may benefit, electorally, from the displacement and the insecurity – and I say that not in a conspiratorial sense, not in the sense of accusing the government of fostering instability for political advantage, but rather in the sense that a smaller electorate can benefit the incumbent even if that incumbent is trying, in however flawed a manner, to address the conditions that shrink that electorate. But in any event, there is a lot of time, politically speaking, between now and November.