The Electoral System
In June 1991, the people of Burkina Faso adopted the Constitution for the country’s Fourth Republic. Three earlier Republican regimes had been inaugurated in 1960, 1974, and 1978. In between these periods, the country experienced six extra-constitutional regimes (1966, 1970, 1974, 1982, 1983, and 1987).
The current Constitution establishes a political system whose exact nature is difficult to define. Without being a semi-presidential system, executive power is nevertheless shared between the President of Burkina Faso and the Government headed by a Prime Minister. The two positions, President and Prime Minister, are both important under the Fourth Republic because of the ambivalent nature of the regime. In the event of cohabitation, where the two positions are held by opposing political parties, the competition between the two authorities would greatly affect their propensity for collaboration or conflict, especially since the Constitution does not clearly specify between a presidential or parliamentary regime. The ambiguous nature of Articles 36 and 61 of the Constitution allow for the possibility of “conflictual cohabitation.”
This possibility is currently only hypothetical, since the Fourth Republic has to date only experienced executive offices from the same political coalition, which has regularly led to the subordination of the Prime Minister to the President of Burkina Faso. This eliminates any idea of diarchy and thus establishes a simple bicephalism, where the Prime Minister’s function is simply to implement the presidential agenda.
Until 2012, the parliament consisted of a single chamber called the “National Assembly.” A reform, in June 2012, established a Senate that was not functional as of January 2014 and whose creation is the subject to significant public criticism and debate. Opponents believe that the Senate is a useless institution that will unnecessarily increase the expenses of the state.
In terms of the organization of the national territory, Burkina Faso is divided into local governments, comprising 49 urban communes and 302 rural municipalities. In addition to this there are the administrative districts. There are 13 regions, each including several provinces for a total of 45. Each province has several departments. Each administrative district is headed by administrative authorities appointed by the executive branch.
The two-round majority runoff presidential election
Presidential elections are organized through a two-round majority runoff election, as required by the Constitution. However, the current president, Blaise Compaoré, has been regularly elected in the first round since 1991. In 2010, he won 80.21% of the votes against 8.18% for his closest rival. Successive victories of the incumbent president in the first round can be explained by various factors. These include the inability of opposition parties in Burkina Faso to form strong and organized alliances in order to challenge the incumbent candidate. Consequently, the victories of President Compaoré are not exclusively related to the ultra-dominant character of his party. The opposition in Burkina Faso suffers from intrinsic structural problems related to its organizational weakness, its weak foundation, infighting between its leaders, and its inability to propose a compelling political platform.
As in many other African countries, the opposition in Burkina Faso could win a presidential election provided that it develops a truly alternative political platform to the ruling party, and that it unites around a single candidate who is technically and morally competent. Some pessimistic analysts, however, believe that it is almost impossible to bring about an alternation in power at the ballot box because, in their view, the political system is hybrid. They view the Compaoré regime as a civilian-military one, with strong military dominance.
Proportional representation in legislative and municipal elections
In accordance with the electoral law, a proportional representation (PR) system applies to legislative and municipal elections. Constituencies are the provinces and the country as a whole for legislative elections, and the village or urban sector for municipal elections. For legislative elections, there are at least two seats in competition per province. Kadiogo province, for instance, has the largest number of seats (9 seats). The National List is composed of 16 seats. For municipal elections, there are on average two seats in competition for each constituency. The choice of the proportional representation system was adopted by consensus in 2001, with the goal of assuring more balanced representation within parliament and municipalities.
Thus, for parliamentary elections, a proportional representation system using the “greatest remainder” electoral quotient system was initially adopted, with the regions as the electoral constituencies (13 regions in total). The same voting procedure was adopted for municipal elections. This electoral system provided satisfactory results for the entire political class and for social actors. Thus, after the 2002 elections, the opposition received 54 deputy seats in the National Assembly, and the ruling party obtained 57 seats. At the time, this election was described as “historic.”
However, and without changing the legislative voting system itself, in 2004 the ruling party instituted a change in the electoral constituencies and in the number of seats per constituency. Rather than the regions, the provinces became the electoral constituencies. In effect, the magnitude of each constituency was thus reduced. More than a dozen of the electoral districts now had only one seat, and ten had two seats. As a result, districts with only one or two seats were in effect decided by a majoritarian system. Similarly, by reducing the magnitude of the electoral constituency, small parties were disadvantaged. The consequence of these changes was that in the 2007 legislative elections, the ruling party won 73 seats whereas the opposition won ten.
In 2012, the National Assembly adopted an amendment that instituted an increase in the number of parliamentary seats. The number of MPs thus increased from 111 to 127. As a result, all the electoral districts that had only one MP now had two MPs. The implementation of this new increase in the number of MPs did not substantively change the distribution of political power at the national level. Indeed, the results of the combined (legislative and local) elections in 2012 confirmed the clear dominance of the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) over all other political parties. The party won 70 seats with a total of 1,448,017 votes. It was followed, respectively, by the Union for Change (UPC), an opposition party, which obtained 19 seats with a total of 328,876 votes, and by the Alliance for Democracy / African Democratic Rally that received 18 seats with 331,019 votes. With the exception of these three parties, no other political party won 10 or more seats. Of the 74 parties that participated in the poll, only 13 received at least one seat in parliament.
Nevertheless, these results did signal a drop in support for the ruling party, whose share of the total vote went from 59% in 2007 to 49% in 2012, a net loss of 10%. Undoubtedly, the crisis that had rocked the top levels of the presidential party on the eve of the election worked against it. The party had sent a number of its senior leaders into retirement, and replaced them with newcomers whom some qualified as “workers of the 25th hour.” The breakthrough of the UPC, a young opposition party founded by a former senior member of the ruling party, was also a notable fact. Only some two years after its creation, the party managed to displace the old opposition parties, including in particular those of the Sankara tendency.
At the local level, the electoral law prescribes a proportional representation system using the “highest average” method of calculation, for the village or other electoral districts. Each district has at least two elected officials. The CDP won more than 12,000 council seats following the combined elections. This is a distinct setback when compared to the 2006 municipal elections, in which the party won more than 15,000 seats. The UPC and ADF/RDA are the other two parties that did relatively well with more than a thousand councilors obtained by each. A total of 81 parties competed for the 18,645 advisory positions to be filled in the elections. While the electoral code prescribes the proportional representation system in theory, we note that its effects more closely resemble that of a majoritarian voting system, in light of the results from various past elections.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the National Assembly: http://www.an.bf
- Official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI): http://www.ceni.bf
- Commission Électoral National Indépendante (CENI), août 2012, « Le code électoral & textes d’application »: http://www.ceni.bf/sites/default/files/02%2008%202012%20Code_%C3%A9lectoral-BF-2012.pdf
- Centre pour la Gouvernance Démocratique: http://cgd-igd.org/
- Lefaso.net, 14 décembre 2012. « Déclaration du président de l’Union pour le changement et le progrès (UPC) sur le déroulement des élections couplées du 2 décembre 2012 » : http://www.lefaso.net/spip.php?article51772&rubrique375