8 November 2005

Burkina Faso: Compaore Camp Primes for Victory Against Divided Opposition

Ouagadougou — With Burkina Faso's president of 18 years, Blaise Compaore, facing a divided opposition and holding a massive lead in a national opinion poll, his supporters are confident of victory in the 13 November presidential election.

"Our objective is not the victory of our candidate in the first round - that's already a sure thing, given the mobilisation of our supporters and the popularity of our candidate," Salif Diallo, Compaore's campaign director, said recently on national television. "Our goal is rather that the turnout and the lead be high."

Meanwhile the opposition still holds that the former army captain, who first seized power in a bloody coup in 1987, is not eligible.

The opposition appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare Compaore's bid for re-election null and void based on a law that sets a two-term limit on the office of the president.

But last month the Court rejected that appeal on the basis that Compaore completed his first term in office prior to the promulgation of that law, which it said could not be enforced in retrospect.

Challenging Compaore's constitutional eligibility to run had provided the only point of agreement among the opposition, who have since failed to rally behind one of the 12 presidential hopefuls, further eroding thin chances of an opposition victory.

Burkinabe politics is highly factionalised with over 100 political parties and about a quarter of those have already backed Compaore.

The most prominent opposition coalition, Alternance 2005, made up of only 15 parties, hasn't been able to agree on fielding any fewer than three presidential candidates.

Of the three Alternance 2005 candidates, lawyer and former member of parliament Benewende Stanislas Sankara and current parliamentarian Philippe Ouedrago are still in the running, but lawyer and veteran opposition leader Herman Yameogo dropped out last month in protest of the Compaore candidacy.

Meanwhile, the head of the opposition in parliament, Gilbert Ouedrago, has abandoned his peers altogether and joined the band wagon for the incumbent leader.

Political rallies and labour strikes

Whoever the new leader is he will have to satiate a population crushed by poverty and struggling with soaring prices for petrol and other basic consumer goods.

While the 12 candidates seeking the backing of Burkina's four million eligible voters held their rallies late last month, 17 labour unions called a two-day strike.

Hundreds of civil servants and other workers across the country stayed at home on 26 and 27 October to call for higher salaries and pensions, lower taxes on consumer goods like petrol, water and electricity.

"The strike was a real success," said Mathias Liliou, secretary general of the Burkinabe Union Confederation. "We had a participation rate of nearly 73 percent."

Burkina Faso is the world's third poorest country according to the UN human development index. Nearly 80 percent of the 13 million population lives on less than two dollars a day.

"Our fight is purely union-related and not political," Liliou said. "We are fighting against the prohibitive cost of living, and that has no political face."

A number of presidential candidates have been quick to take advantage of the problems bared by civil society to criticise Compaore.

"The labour union strikes demonstrate that the citizens have had enough of this government," UNIR/MS candidate Sankara said during a campaign stop in the northern city of Gaskinde.

Despite their contentions, the opposition has not been able to weaken Compaore, who enjoys a comfortable lead over all challengers.

An independent opinion poll run by the national Centre for Democratic Governance showed 69 percent of eligible voters support the president - a whopping lead over the closest contender, Sankara, with only 3.7 percent. All the challengers combined garnered less than 10 percent.

Compaore won previous elections in 1991 and 1998 that were boycotted by the main opposition parties.

His party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, is the only political party present in all 45 provinces of Burkina -- even in villages -- and has far more financial means than other parties.

In view of the unrest in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire and Togo, Compaore -- deemed a dictator by his critics -- is seen by many citizens as a guarantor of stability.

Business owner Michel Bazie in Burkina's second city, Bobo Dioulasso, told IRIN, "In the past 10 years, Burkina Faso has taken leaps forward in education, basic infrastructure and especially in stability. In the face of the Ivorian crisis, we have seen a serene Blaise Compaore who has been able to manage things in such a way as to avoid the worst for us. For all these reasons, I think he is the man for the job and I won't hesitate to vote for him."

Serene leader at the helm or not, Burkina Faso is suffering heavy fallout from the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, which has long been home to millions of Burkinabe. More than 300,000 who had been working in Cote d'Ivoire -- many of whom sending earnings to family in Burkina -- have returned and are now trying to pick up the pieces in a country that can ill absorb such a blow to the economy.

While Compaore might be the man for the job in the eyes of some, much of his strength comes from the weakness of the opposition which was further divided by the adoption of a system of proportional representation in 2001, according to US-based National Democratic Institute.

"One direct result was the further fragmentation of the opposition with ambiguous political ideologies and platforms that have little thematic substance," NDI said in a 2004 report.

"Politicians have tended to address differences by creating new parties that often reflect little more than personality conflicts and personal rivalries among their leaders."

The challengers

Sankara, of the Union for Renewal/Sankarist Movement party, is a parliamentarian of 46 years and like Compaore hails from northern Burkina Faso. But unlike Compaore, he claims to stand for the Sankarist ideal - after former president Thomas Sankara, killed in the 1987 coup that put Compaore in power.

Philippe Ouedraogo, retired mining engineer and parliamentarian of the Democracy and Socialism party, is also often referred to as one of the stronger contenders.

For name recognition, candidate and former cabinet minister Ram Ouedraogo has an advantage; the showbiz manager and leader of the Rally of Ecologists of Burkina party ran against Compaore in the 1998 presidential race.

Also gaining some mention in the national press are the former minister and current member of parliament Ali Lankoande of the Party for Democracy and Progress, and former university professor now parliamentarian Laurent Bado, head of the Renaissance Party.

Also in the running are Norbert Michel Tiendrebeogo of the Socialist Forces Front party and Nayabtigungou Congo Kabore of Movement for Tolerance and Progress - both of whom also carry the Sankara banner; Soumane Toure, president of African Independence Party; Emile Pargui Pare, president of the Socialist Alliance and Gilbert Bouda and Toube Clement Dakio running as independents.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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