Burkina Faso Heads To The Polls

Historic elections are underway in Burkina Faso, as voter decide on their next President. This follows a tumultuous transitional period after the forced resignation of former President Blaise Compaore.

The Burkinabé will head to the polls after former President Compaore was forced from office following a 2014 bid to constitutionally extend his 27-year rule over the West African country, whose population is 18 million.

In a military coup d’état organised by Compaore, his predecessor was killed, along with 12 other officials– thus  installing Compaore as President in 1987. Compaore never truly ran a dictatorship, but neither did he run a free and open democracy – much of Compaore’s four electoral victories are attributed to his party buying up media airtime, low voter participation rates, and his party allegedly  bribing voters.

A constitutional amendment in 2000 limited presidential terms to two five-year terms. However, this was not applied retrospectively, and Compaore won another two terms in office before attempting to scrap constitutional limits in 2014. This led to widespread protests in October 2014, which closed down the capital, Ouagadougou, and Compaore subsequently resigned. He was exiled to nearby Ivory Coast.

These elections were due to have been carried out last month, however a failed coup in September by members of the elite presidential guard–supporters of Compaore–delayed this. The brief week-long coup led to 10 people being killed and more than 100 injured. The leader of the coup, former chief of staff General Gilber Diendere, surrendered power after it was clear the military did not have the support of the people and buckled to international pressure from the African Union and other African leaders to surrender.

Approximately 5.5 million people have registered to vote for one of 14 presidential candidates. At least 25,000 soldiers and police have been deployed across the country to oversee the polls, according to Security Minister Alain Zagre. Many critics observe that this will be the most free and democratic elections held in Burkina Faso, given there is no incumbent and Compaore’s party is banned from running a presidential candidate thanks to revised electoral codes.

‘We have a real chance for democracy here,’ presidential candidate Tahirou Barry said. ‘For the first time, the incumbent president is not a candidate. This leaves voters free of pressure and there is fair play in the process.’

Preliminary results should be known by the evening of 30 November. The next President will need to deal with the 60% unemployment rate in Burkina Faso, with government spending largely funded by international aid, and with some of the highest levels of food insecurity and poverty in the world.