Elections Over, Now the Hard Part

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Image credit: Burkina24

This guy, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, was elected president of Burkina Faso in results announced last night around midnight. He got 53% of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off, as against 30% for his closest competitor. I was sitting with friends watching the returns and when the result appeared inevitable, Kaboré’s various opponents started to drop by his headquarters to congratulate him. In America, they make phone calls, but the phone system was pretty much overwhelmed last night as everybody tried to use smartphones and mobile data to watch the election returns. Bunches of young fellows in orange shirts started to flock around on street corners (orange is Kaboré’s party color – it looked like a party after a Dutch soccer championship), blowing vuvuzelas and car horns and loosing the occasional burst of celebratory gunfire. Or maybe it was fireworks, though as a connoisseur it sure sounded like gunfire to me. Anyway, nobody appears to have been shot and this morning the city seems calm.

Kaboré was a long-time supporter of Blaise Compaoré’s CDP party. He held a series of posts in government during the 27-year reign of Compaoré, including Prime Minister. When Compaoré was considering running for a fourth term in 2013-14, his advisors were split. Kaboré urged him to retire, take a post as head of an international organization, and reap the benefits of an honored elder statesman. The CDP party machinery could continue to dominate the country under a new leader. Kaboré suggested himself for that role, and he wasn’t alone. Many of the civilian leadership of the CDP supported him. The military advisors, on the other hand, including Djibril Bassolé and General Diendéré, the leaders of last month’s coup, preferred having Compaoré change the constitution to permit another term (he had already dodged the constitutional provision limiting him to two terms in order to be re-elected in 2010, which cost him the support of last night’s second-place finisher, Zephirin Diabré). Kaboré, his ambitions within the CDP thwarted and/or demonstrating a principled rejection of unlimited re-election (depending on your partisan point of view), broke with the CDP in 2014 and formed a new political party with the support of several members of the CDP’s executive committee. The remaining CDP executive formally denounced him as a traitor to the cause and spent the next year and a half vituperating against him. In this election, the CDP was not permitted to offer any presidential candidates and they directed their supporters to vote for anybody but Kaboré.

Nonetheless, last night’s result demonstrates that Kaboré has inherited the CDP electoral dominance that, along with a willingness to assassinate the odd political opponent, kept Compaoré in power for 27 years. It helps that Kaboré is a genuinely respected leader, both locally and internationally. His opponents, like my neighbors up the street, pointed to the fact that his promotions were based on loyalty to the party rather than necessarily qualifications, but nobody can argue that he didn’t show administrative and leadership skills in those jobs. The country could definitely be in worse hands.

Interestingly, no results have yet been posted for the legislative election. It is unclear if people would have split their tickets. The CDP offered legislative candidates, and perhaps people voted for Roch for president and CDP candidates for legislature. Or maybe there was some other sort of ticket-splitting going on. In any case, I’m still anticipating that the institutional desires of the legislature combined with popular pressure will lead to constitutional reforms that will give greater power to the legislature. Probably what is happening is that they are counting the legislative vote after the presidential one and we will have those results in the next day or two. One of my students who is involved in the vote-counting process postponed a meeting we had scheduled for today until Friday, which gives me a sense of how long he expects it to take.

I’ve got an appointment this afternoon with the President of the University of Ouagadougou and the Ambassador. Sort of a formal presentation and recognition that the US Government is providing two professors this year. Looks like the US Embassy is taking the position that things are back to normal. They scheduled this meeting a week ago, so they were pretty confident that there wouldn’t be a big nasty mess today. Nice to know. The Ambassador got on local media yesterday when he visited a polling place and said nice things about the election process. He is widely respected here.

Now, the hard work begins. The new government will have to govern effectively. Cutting down on corruption, making government services more widely available, providing basic services more efficiently (the power was out for a couple of hours earlier this morning, underlining one of the biggest problems this country faces). So onward and upward, Burkina Faso!

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