Burkina Faso elections: Not a one-man race

Election results pending with powerful candidates from the old and new political establishments in contention.

    Burkina Faso elections: Not a one-man race
    Elections are under way in Burkina Faso with strong contenders in the lead [Roberto Valussi/Al Jazeera]

    Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso - The posters, just a few hundred, sprayed on the walls across downtown will not change much in Burkina Faso's history of democracy. Nonetheless, graffiti artist Deri Issaka, 31, decided to take time off from his work to run a mini graffiti campaign in the pre-elections week.

    Along with a couple of friends, Issaka put up large white posters with stencilled messages that declared: "No more dictatorships", and "Mr President, keep your word."

    Nothing partisan - just pro-democracy lines. Issaka explained: "For me, it's a priority to contribute as much as possible to this election. We have fought hard for it," he told Al Jazeera. "I'll worry about bills and clients later on."

    Isaaka, or Deris, his artist name, is used to taking it to the streets. In October 2014, he was part of the uprising that brought an end to the 27-year rule of Blaise Compaore. Today, he will be voting in a historic election that will determine the future of Burkina Faso's fragile democracy.

    A transitional authority, led by Michel Kafando and Lieutenant-Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, was appointed to pave the way to the much-desired free elections after the uprising.

    But the road to democracy was nearly lost when, last September, General Gilbert Diendere and his Regime for Presidential Security (RSP), a powerful military elite loyal to Compaore, staged a short-lived coup.

    The power swung back to the transitional authorities after just one week, following another mass uprising and the retaliation of the national army.

    RELATED: Why are coups common in Africa?

    Divided across party lines

    Today, Deris prefers not to say for whom he will vote.

    "During the protests, we all felt like one. But now, the youth are wrongly becoming divided across party lines," he said. "To avoid being put in a box, I'll keep my decision [on whom to vote for] a secret."

    However, Deris had no problem disclosing that he will "certainly … not vote for the MPP", in reference to the Movement of People for Progress.

    The MPP is the favourite political party in this year's elections.

    But, Deris and many observers deem its political leader, Roch Marc Kabore, to be the closest politician to the previous regime out of the 14 candidates. With Kabore at the very centre of the ousted regime, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) since day one, critics do not expect major political or economic changes from him.

     Voting begins in Burkina Faso

    Kabore was, for many years, Compaore's heir apparent. He served as prime minister and president of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso, and for 11 years, he headed the CDP, Compaore's political party. His critics point out that he switched to the opposition only 10 months before the 2014 uprising.

    "Voters don't need a brand new political virginity," MPP parliamentary candidate Eric Bougamou told Al Jazeera.

    "Instead, they appreciate how Kabore guarded our democracy by abandoning the ruling party [CDP] when it crossed the line," with its attempt to amend the constitutional term limits for the president, Bougamou said.

    "Now, what matters to the population are the experience and the popularity of our leadership."

    RELATED: Burkina Faso elections: Why historic vote matters

    No one-man race

    The MPP proved to be the most resourced and structured party in the country by dwarfing the electoral campaigns of its rivals. Kabore's finely designed posters, billboards and flyers are disseminated around every corner of the country.

    For the closing rally of the campaign, his party filled up the 35,000-seat 4th August stadium. At the end of the event, Jean, an MPP supporter, overjoyed by the grandeur of the gathering, pointed out to Al Jazeera that "rival parties could not come close to" what Kabore had done in his campaign.

    Yet, the elections are not a one-man race.

    The other favourite is Zephirin Diabre, with his Union for Progress and Change party (UPC). His opposition credentials appear stronger than Kabore's - after founding his political party in 2010, he became the main opposition leader to Compaore just two years later.

    Diabre is also part of the establishment inside and outside of the country. A former finance as well as economy minister, he also held high-profile posts abroad - first with the United Nations Development Programme in New York, and then at a Paris-based nuclear energy company.

    According to local polls, no party is likely to get over 50 percent of the vote and snatch a victory on the first round. The two candidates with the most votes would then face each other in an election run-off, where the backing of the smaller candidates - for example, Benewende Sankara of the left-wing Union for the Renaissance-Sankarist Party (UNIR-PS), would become crucial. 

    Sankara represents by far the clearest opposition to the past regime. His reference point is Thomas Sankara (no relation), the late leader of Burkina Faso who was killed in 1987.

    The former Marxist president, Thomas Sankara had ruled for only four years, but his anti-imperialist position, integrity, and successful socioeconomic programmes marked him as a national hero in Burkina Faso, and as a respected figure in the whole of Africa.

    The circumstances of his death have yet to be clarified, but many suspect the instigator was his right-hand man, Compaore, who came to power after Sankara's death.

    RELATED: Burkina Faso: Ghost of 'Africa's Che Guevara'

    Benewende Sankara was the lawyer for Thomas Sankara's family in the 1990s, as they tried to shed light on the death of the former leader in what the Compaore regime ruled out to be a case of natural death. 

    In his blog, Bruno Jaffa, Thomas Sankara's French biographer, reckons that Benewende does not fully capitalise on his merits to become a leading candidate because "he is handicapped by smaller financial capabilities in comparison with the other two".

     Burkina Faso: Uprising or military coup?

    After the fall of the regime, the Sankara family was on the front-lines, pushing for a state inquiry into the assassination. The current transitional leader, Kafando, eventually launched an inquiry into the death last March, though the findings of the investigation have yet to be released.

    New hope

    The foundations of the current political scene are at stake, with a large section of the current elite also being a part of the old regime which allegedly hid the truth surrounding Sankara's death for 27 years.

    But for the young citizens of Burkina Faso, like Deris and his friends, hope abounds that change is on the way. Like many of his fellow activists, Deris also finds inspiration in Thomas Sankara.

    He hopes that the time of truth will come soon and there will be, as one of his stencil messages declares, "No More Martyrs."

    "Let's try to get these elections right: free, fair and without post-vote shambles," he says. "If we get that, we can be happy with what the transitional government has achieved in just a year."

    With over 17,000 local and foreign observers monitoring the polls, and some 5.5 million voters, perhaps a few hundred election posters will ring true. The electoral commission expects to publish preliminary results as early as Monday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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