The Party System and Conditions of Candidacy
An Extremely Liberal Regime
The legal framework for the creation of political parties in Burkina Faso is exceptionally liberal. The provisions governing political parties are incorporated into the highest level of regulations: the Constitution and the Law. According to Article 13 of the Constitution of Burkina Faso, “Political parties are freely created… They freely conduct their activities in compliance with the law. All political parties or political groups have equal rights and duties. However, parties or political groups based on tribalism, regionalism, religious affiliation or racism are not allowed.”
The Constitution thus establishes a multiparty system and makes it unalterable, since Article 165 of the Constitution prohibits questioning the multiparty system. The freedom to create political parties is confirmed by the Political Parties Charter Act No 032-2001 of 29 November, 2001. Parties are created based on the principle of prior declaration. In 2013, there were 104 political parties and three legally recognized groupings of parties, in line with existing provisions.
In 2012, following an investigation carried out by the Ministry of Territorial Administration on the conformity of political parties with the law, 48 parties and three political groupings were suspended for 12 months, in accordance with the Charter for political parties. The most common reason for suspension was that parties did not have a physical headquarters.
The excessive number of political parties is a common subject of public criticism. Indeed, very few of these parties have effective representation. Thus, the newspaper Le Pays, in its edition of Thursday, December 18, 2008, argues against the tendency toward the ever-increasing number of political parties. The newspaper writes that: “With more than one hundred political parties, it would be easy to calculate the density of political parties in Burkina by square kilometer. It would be among the leaders in Africa, and perhaps even in the world. The epitome of this aberration comes when one will tell you that the leaders of these parties have declared, from the moment of their founding, that they support an already existing party—as it turns out, the ruling party. Why create a political party if its only ambition is to support another party? One can guess that behind the motivations of these political leaders are only base material objectives. Some will say they are moved by ‘esophageal’ or ‘digestive-track’ motivations.”
The combined legislative and local elections of 2 December, 2012 showed that of 74 competing parties, only 13 received at least one seat in the Assembly. It can be noted that since 2002, only a dozen parties have been able to win at least one seat in the various legislative elections held. Some people call for tougher conditions on the creation of political parties, citing the Ghanaian model as an example.
The Burkinabè political parties are characterized by division and fission. Very often parties are born as a result of poorly resolved internal conflicts. This reflects a problem of internal democracy within these organizations. The parties of the “Sankarist” movement clearly illustrate this lack of unity. More than a dozen political parties claim a connection to the illustrious former president (Thomas Sankara), yet these parties fail to develop a common platform to obtain power.
For legislative and municipal elections, only political parties may present candidates. For presidential elections, independent candidacies are also admitted.
Candidate for the presidential election must be a Burkina Faso national and between 35 and 75 years old on the date of the filing of their candidacy. In addition, every candidate in the presidential election must submit a certificate of sponsorship by at least 50 elected representatives (MPs or councilors). If the certificate contains only local officials, they must represent at least seven of the thirteen regions of the country. However, if the certificate contains at least one nationally elected official, the requirement of having the endorsement of elected officials from diverse parts of the country is waived. An elected official may sponsor only one presidential candidate.
Candidates for the presidential election must pay a deposit of 10 000 0000 CFA (approximately 20,000 US dollars). The deposit is refunded for any candidate who receives at least 5% of the vote. These provisions were included in the law to discourage so-called “frivolous candidacies” in Burkina Faso. Experience showed that some individuals ran for the presidential elections only to benefit from campaign funding, without having a real program or even a credible organization capable of conducting a meaningful electoral campaign.
For the parliamentary elections, political parties must present lists of candidates. The same requirement holds for municipal elections. Every candidate for the general election must be at least 21 years old at the date of the election. Foreigners who have been naturalized for at least 10 years are allowed to run for election. Each list is required to submit a deposit of 50,000 CFA (approximately 100 US dollars). To receive a refund, the list must obtain at least 10% of votes cast.
There is no age requirement for the municipal election, but any candidate running for election must be a qualified voter, since he or she must have a voter’s card. However, only citizens who are at least 18 years of age can be issued a voting card. Thus, to be a candidate in the municipal election, one must be at least 18 years old. The deposit in this election is 1,000 CFA for each list (approximately 2 US dollars). As in the legislative election, any list can be reimbursed provided it obtains at least 10% of the votes cast.
Once submitted, candidacies must be validated by the Constitutional Council for the presidential and legislative elections. With regard to municipal elections, the validation of candidacies is under the jurisdiction of the Council of State. At the time of the last combined elections of 2 December, 2012, the Constitutional Council received eight appeals of the invalidation of candidacies. One of these appeals provoked particular controversy. This case concerned the candidacies of two judges who had been included on one of the ruling party’s lists. The applicants, based on the law regarding the status of judges, called for the invalidation of those candidacies on the grounds that the law prohibits judges from political activity to prevent them from being in a position that takes them away from their duties. The Constitutional Court found the application unfounded, considering that the Constitutional Council had no jurisdiction to hear this case. A significant portion of public opinion believed that the constitutional judges had misapplied the law, under the influence of the ruling party. It should be noted that all members of this high court owe their appointment to the President of Burkina Faso, who directly appoints the president of the institution.
Article 12 of the Constitution stipulates: “All Burkinabè without distinction have the right to participate in the management of the country. As such, they are entitled to vote and are eligible under the conditions provided by law.” In application of this constitutional provision, the electoral code, Act No. 014-2001/AN July 03, 2001, in articles 157 and 246, grants political parties a monopoly over the selection of political leaders in legislative and municipal elections. However, independent candidates are permitted to run in presidential elections.
This monopoly enshrined in the Law proves not only contrary to the principle of participation promoted in Article 12 of the Constitution, but also to the principle of equality as reaffirmed by Article 1 of the Constitution where it states: “All Burkinabé are born free and equal in rights. All have an equal capacity to have all rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.” It follows that the exclusion of citizens from electoral competition by denying their right to be elected is contrary to the above mentioned principles underlying the above cited constitutional provisions. Not allowing independent candidates to run for legislative or municipal office is even more outdated than Burkinabé society which chose to lead a liberal movement which sought to promote active citizenship.
During the recent combined elections of December 2012, a coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) ran independent candidates for the parliamentary elections of the province of Kadiogo. The Independent National Electoral Commission refused to approve their candidacies on the grounds that they are not allowed for in the Electoral Code. Indeed, a strict interpretation of the current Electoral Code does not allow independent candidates to contest legislative or local elections. Members of the civil society coalition challenged the decision to refuse these candidacies before the administrative courts. However, they did not succeed in the courts which declared their appeal inadmissible for lack of locus standi. This court decision was extremely questionable because it was based on a literal interpretation of the Electoral Code. It would have been interesting to bring this claim before the Constitutional Court after the constitutionality of the Electoral Code was raised before the administrative courts. In the event that the Constitutional Court upheld the ruling of the administrative courts, the appeal could have been brought before the ECOWAS Court of Justice which has recently made bold decisions regarding the protection of human rights.
The question of whether independent candidates may contest legislative and municipal elections has been defended mainly by civil society organizations and does not seem to concern political parties. They see the independent candidates as potential adversaries who might steal their seats at the National Assembly or Municipal Council. In contrast, proponents of civil society argue that granting a monopoly over representation at the National Assembly and Municipal councils to political parties is an antiquated practice. Civil society organizations substantiate their position with a variety of legal and other factual arguments. Legally, they claim that the right of political participation is guaranteed to all Burkinabè citizens by the principle of equality enshrined in Article 1 of the Constitution.
On factual grounds, the proponents of independent candidates maintain that the internal procedures of political parties suffer from a lack of democracy. Although, in the recent combined elections of December 2012, the ruling party relied on primaries to appoint those who would be included on its electoral lists. This had the advantage of restoring the power to choose their own candidates to party members at the constituency level. However, the results of those primaries were not always respected by the party leadership and consequently, some candidates who were poorly positioned at the constituency level found themselves in the best positions on the party list.
Another argument that is advanced by proponents of independent candidacies highlights the idea that political parties have lost all credibility regarding the representation of voters. They maintain that parties do not have legitimate platforms which they argue is responsible for the low voter turnout. This argument suffered in light of the relatively high turnout (estimated at over 70%) during the recent combined elections. It seems overstated to assert that Burkinabè political parties have no political program, but one must acknowledge that in general parties are not differentiated by their programmatic appeal.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Security: http://www.matds.gov.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 (2009). « Partis politiques et Système de partis au BF ». https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/Doc-1_Partis-politiques-et-Système-de-partis-au-BF.pdf
- Official websites of the most representative political parties:
- Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (CDP) o, Blaise Curent president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré: http://www.cdp.bf/
- Union pour le Progrès et le Changement (UPC) dirigé par Zéphirin Diabré, leader of the opposition: http://www.upcbf.org/
- Alliance pour la Démocratie et la Fédération–Rassemblement Démocratique Africain: http://www.adf-rda.com/
- Union pour la Renaissance (UPR), a Sanakarist political party headed by Bénéwendé Sankara: http://www.unirps.org/
- Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Développement (UNDD), headed by Hermann Yaméogo : http://www.undd.org/