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BURKINA FASO: Compaore's decision to bid for re-election raises opposition hackles

OUAGADOUGOU, 11 August 2005 (IRIN) - Burkina Faso's long-serving president Blaise Compaore has announced he will stand again in elections scheduled for 13 November, a move the opposition believes is unconstitutional.

Compaore, a former army captain, seized power in a bloody coup in 1987. Trading his military fatigues for civilian dress, he went on to win two landslide elections in 1991 and 1998 that were boycotted by the main opposition parties, who complained that the electoral system was opaque and unfair.

On Wednesday, in his hometown of Ziniare, 35 km from the capital, Compaore personally announced that he would be running again.

"The most important issue is to win over the public and reassure them that we can ensure the continued progress of Burkina Faso," Compaore said in comments broadcast on Radio France Internationale.

At the heart of the row over Compaore's candidacy is whether a recent amendment to the West African country's constitution should be applied retroactively.

In April 2000, parliament voted to reduce the presidential term from seven years to five and to allow a leader to be re-elected only once.

That, says the opposition, means that Compaore, who has already served two seven-year terms, should not be allowed to bid for a third.

"Compaore will be completing his second term in November... and will be violating the constitution if he stays on," said Benewende Sankara, the leader of the opposition Union for Renewal party, who is planning to stand in the presidential poll himself.

"Compaore's candidacy is improper not only in legal terms... it's improper because after 18 years of his rule Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries on the planet even though there's no war and politically things are stable," Sankara told IRIN on Thursday.

The UN Human Development Index ranks Burkina Faso as the third poorest nation in the world, with an estimated 80 percent of its 13 million people living on less than US $2 a day.

Hermann Yameogo -- the son of Burkina Faso's first post-independence president, the leader of the National Union for Democracy and Development and another opposition candidate in November's election -- is also incensed but not surprised.

"This regime has never bothered itself with respecting the laws of this country," he alleged.

False arguments?

However, the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), who selected Compaore as their candidate in June, say the opposition has got its legal and moral arguments wrong.

"Legally, President Compaore can be a candidate," said Salif Diallo, the director of Compaore's campaign and the current Agriculture Minister. "A constitutional revision brings a new constitution with it and the old formula no longer holds."

"We in the CDP believe that there is a need for a prolonged stability for the political body so as to strengthen democracy," he told IRIN. "The president's positive results lead us to endorse his candidacy... Today human rights and economic growth are realities."

Political stability followed Compaore's military coup which was the fifth since independence from France in 1960.

And Compaore at one point was free to rule for life. In 1997, the president's party voted through a constitutional amendment removing all restrictions on the number of times someone could stand for re-election.

However the social unrest that erupted in the wake of the so-called 'Zongo Affair' in 1998 meant that the change was short-lived.

Norbert Zongo was a journalist and government critic, who was assassinated while investigating the death of a driver employed by Compaore's brother.

Zongo's murder -- which was later linked to the government by an independent, internationally-backed inquiry --prompted a series of massive strikes and public demonstrations, as Burkinabes railed about the lack of freedom of speech and the suppression of political opposition.

The reforms that were brought in to appease public anger included re-establishing presidential term limits.

More complaints

Aside from the issue of whether the 2000 constitutional amendment should be applied retroactively, the opposition are also unhappy about changes to Burkina Faso's electoral code, passed last year.

The country's electoral unit changed from the region -- of which there are 15 -- to the province -- of which there are 45. The opposition says that this gives the government an unfair advantage as it will be impossible for them to field candidates and polling observers in all of the new zones.

They also allege that fraud has occurred as voter registers have been computerised, with some people's records going on file several times.

"All these manoeuvres do not suggest transparent elections in November," Sankara said.

These claims are refuted by the government.

"Nobody can accuse us of not creating the conditions for transparent elections. We have always strived for fair elections," Diallo said.

Analysts reckon that Compaore should triumph in the November poll.

"With the state apparatus at his command and the vast majority of Burkinabes having no pressing problems with his current dispensation, the President is, of course, the favourite candidate," London-based researchers Global Insight said in a recent briefing note.

The lack of unity among the many opposition parties is also likely to split their vote. There are so far 15 opposition candidates vying for the presidency and even Alternance 2005, which is supposed to be an umbrella group of several parties, has seen more than one nomination emerge from its midst.

Theme (s): Governance,

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

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