Burkina Faso Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: November 22, 2020

Counting votes during Burkina Faso’s 2015 elections, in the presence of election observers and political party monitors.
Photo credit: VOA/E. Iob (public domain) 

Freedom House Rating

Partly Free
Government Type
Presidential Republic
19.7 million
Municipal Elections
May 2021 (due)
Presidential and Parliamentary Elections
November 2025 (due)
Presidential and Parliamentary Elections
November 22, 2020
Partial Municipal Elections (in 19 out of 351 communes)
May 28, 2017
Municipal Elections
May 22, 2016

Burkina Faso held presidential and parliamentary elections on November 22, 2020. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore won re-election and his allies kept control of parliament.

Political Context

The 2020 elections took place in the context of a growing security crisis as well as political uncertainty as the country’s democrats seek to consolidate the young, fragile democracy.

Burkina Faso’s 2015 presidential and legislative elections – described as the most competitive in the history of the country – followed the collapse of the 27-year rule of Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré and his Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) dominated the country’s politics following a 1987 coup that ousted his former friend and Marxist firebrand Thomas Sankara

Compaoré subsequently won a series of elections and remained president; however, in 2015, when he sought to change the electoral rules so he could run again in 2015, a large portion of his party abandoned him. Former prime minister Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and nearly 75 MPs broke off from CDP to form the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP), which worked closely with the opposition Union for Progress and Change (UPC) to prevent the constitutional change. Civil society-led protests subsequently forced Compaoré to resign before the end of his term. Although his presidential guard attempted a coup, it failed, and a military and then a transitional civilian government ran the country until the elections one year later. 

Burkina Faso’s 2015 Elections

Nearly 100 political parties participated in the 2015 parliamentary elections and 14 won seats in parliament. However, politics tend to be based on personality rather than party or ideology.

The three biggest parties following the election are Kaboré’s MPP, UPC, and Compaoré’s CDP, in that order. Kaboré won the presidency in the first round with 53 percent of the vote, and MPP won 55 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, falling short of a majority. UPC’s Zéphirin Diabré, who had been campaigning for political change in the country since 2010, took second place and his party won the second-highest number of parliamentary seats (33 seats).

Meanwhile, CDP, despite being prevented from fielding a presidential candidate, managed to come in third in the legislative elections, winning 18 seats. Compaoré  himself currently lives in exile in Cote d’Ivoire and faces murder charges in Burkina Faso, but apparently aspires to return home

The reform process continues. Burkina Faso’s democrats face many challenges, including corruption and the constant threat of terrorism. Consequently, an overdue constitutional referendum on presidential term limits has been postponed due to security concerns. Nevertheless, Burkinabé civil society and media maintain a strong commitment to democracy.

The 2020 Elections in Burkina Faso 

At the closure of the filing period, 23 candidates filed to run for president, including three women. In total, the Constitutional Court affirmed 13 candidates, again including all of the major names.

Kaboré ran a second term. He faces a number of challengers, but the opposition has united ahead of the vote – a group of eight candidates and 22 opposition parties have signed an agreement that they will all back whichever opposition candidate advances to the second round. Signatories to the agreement include: Zéphirin Diabré, the 2015 runner-up and main opposition leader and UPC’s candidate. Eddie Komboïgo will be the candidate from Compaoré’s CDP. The election commission barred Komboïgo from running in 2015, but has greenlit his candidacy this year. 

Other former Compaoré associates who will run include former prime minister Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, who left CDP in 2019, and Gilbert Noel Ouedraogo (also barred in 2015 but validated this year). Meanwhile, former prime minister Isaac Zida returned from exile in Canada to run as well.

One interesting candidate is Abdoulaye Soma, whom some have likened to France’s Emmanuel Macron. The 40-year-old civil society activist, lawyer, and professor has never run for office before, and his newly-formed Future Sun party has been recruiting other first-time candidates around the country for the legislative elections. 

Security Situation Preventing Many From Voting

The major parties changed the rules to allow the results to be valid even if turnout is extremely low, or even if large areas of the country are unable to vote due to the security situation. As one would expect, the question of how to combat terrorism is playing a major role in the campaign.

Henry Wilkins at Al Jazeera notes: “Wracked by a worsening conflict pitting government forces and international troops against various armed groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda, the country’s government ruled it unsafe for registration to take place in 17.4 percent of its electoral communes. As a result, more than 400,000 people were unable to register for the November 22 vote.”

Geopolitical Context

Since 2016, Burkina Faso’s security situation has deteriorated. The country now faces near-daily terrorist attacks from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as from domestic armed criminal groups, leaving over 1,000 people dead and nearly a million people displaced. Analyst Joe Penney says that Burkina Faso has replaced Mali as the “epicenter of the Sahel’s security crisis.” Six of the country’s 13 regions are in a state of emergency.

Curated News and Analysis

Reuters (November 29, 2020): Allies of Burkina Faso’s Kabore Retain Control of Parliament

Reuters (November 27, 2020): Burkina Faso opposition leader concedes defeat in election

Sam Mednick, AP (November 26, 2020): Burkina Faso president Roch Marc Christian Kabore re-elected

Bryan J. Peterson, African Arguments (November 20, 2020): Elections will be tricky, but Burkina Faso has an even bigger problem

Amaury Hauchard and Armel Baily, AFP (November 17, 2020): Security crisis dominates as Burkina heads to polls

Henry Wilkins, Voice of America (November 3, 2020): Burkina Faso Election Excludes Hundreds of Thousands of Displaced People   

TV5Monde (October 28, 2020 – in French): Presidential election in Burkina Faso: 13 candidates and a ‘pact of good conduct’

Nadoun Coulibaly, Jeune Afrique (October 23, 2020): Burkina: Diabré, Komboïgo, Zida… Strengths and weaknesses of the candidates competing against Kaboré

Nick Turse, New York Times (October 15, 2020): How One of the Most Stable Nations in West Africa Descended Into Mayhem

Willy Sagbe, Burkina24 (October 8, 2020 – in French): Presidential Election in Burkina Faso: 14 candidates validated by CENI (the election commission)

AFP (October 2, 2020): Burkina Opposition Leader, Ex-PM To Stand In Elections

The Economist (September 3, 2020): Burkina Faso says its poll will be valid, whatever the turnout

Cameroon Tribune/All Africa (August 21, 2020): Burkina Faso – Opposition Signs Presidential Election Coalition

Clingendael – Netherlands Institute of International Relations (April 2020): Burkina Faso’s rocky road to democratic consolidation

International Crisis Group (January 28, 2020): Burkina Faso: Safeguarding Elections amid Crisis

Monica O’Hearn, Charged Affairs (December 5, 2019): Burkina Faso, Five Years After “Revolution 2.0”

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Updated December 10, 2020

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