Author Archives: Sophia Moestrup

Mali – President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s new cabinet, preparing for 2018

On April 11, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) announced a new cabinet, headed by former Defense Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga whom he appointed on April 8 to replace former Prime Minister Modibo Keita. Maiga becomes IBK’s fourth prime minister (PM) in as many years and is the first to belong to the Rally for Mali (RPM), the president’s party. His three predecessors were all independents.

Newly appointed PM Maiga is one of the founding members of the RPM and served as campaign director for IBK in the 2013 presidential campaign — an indication of where the priorities of this new government are going to be, as preparations for the 2018 presidential election get underway. The perhaps most surprising appointment in the new cabinet is the come-back  of Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly as Minister for Territorial Administration. Coulibaly was dismissed as Minister of Defense less than 8 months ago, in September of last year, following the loss of territory to Jihadist fighters in central Mali. Seen as a close ally of President IBK, he is now back in the cabinet with a portfolio that will put him charge of organizing the 2018 presidential election.

The 36-member cabinet (including the PM), of which 8 are women, sees the entry of 11 new ministers who join 25 remaining from the former government. At 22 percent, women’s representation falls well short of the 30 gender quota for appointed and elected office that was adopted in 2015. Eight former cabinet members leave, including notably the ministers of health and education, two sectors that have seen protracted strikes over recent weeks. A high profile departure is that of Mountaga Tall, president of the Democratic Initiative National Congress of Mali (CNID) and a likely presidential contender in 2018, who was formerly minister of IT and communication. The presence and responsibilities of ruling-party members and of members of its key ally, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party, in the government appear to have been strengthened, overall. No opposition members are included. An overview of the new cabinet is provided in table 1 below.

The new government will have a busy and challenging agenda, in a context of social crisis and growing insecurity. An ongoing strike in the education sector will be one of the first priorities to address. PM Maiga met with labor union representatives within days of taking office. The 2015 peace accord with former rebel groups has struggled to get off the ground, resulting in weak state authority and presence in large swaths of the territory. Various Jihadist movements are taking advantage of this power vacuum, staging repeated deadly attacks. The UN mission to Mali – MINUSMA – is the deadliest in the UN’s history of peacekeeping. Without significant progress in the implementation of the peace accord, IBK’s ambition of winning a second term in 2018 could be similarly under threat.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation
Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga Defense minister RPM, vice-president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly NEW Former amb. to US, former minister
Territorial Administration Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly NEW (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop Same Career diplomat
Justice Mamadou Ismaïla Konaté Same Lawyer
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Transportation Baber Gano NEW RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadou Konaté Same Expert in social development
National Education Mohamed Ag Erlaf Decentralization and Government Reform RPM, member of leadership
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Public sector
Human Rights and Government Reform Kassoum Tapo NEW ADEMA
Decentralization and Local Taxation Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa NEW Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Investment Promotion and Private Sector Konimba Sidibé Same MODEC, president
Habitat and Urbanism Mohamed Ali Bathily Public Land Lawyer
Agriculture Nango Dembele Livestock and Fishery Public sector
Livestock and Fishery Ly Taher Drave NEW Private sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré NEW Public sector
Equipment and Access Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra NEW Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow NEW Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (except new role as government spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Territorial Developm. and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra NEW ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same Private sector
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré NEW Civil society
Sports Housseïni Amion Guindo Same CODEM, president
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

Benin – Debating the benefits of a one-term presidency

With President Patrice Talon keen to keep his campaign pledge that he will not stand for reelection, debate is picking up in Benin over the benefits and drawbacks of a one-term presidency. Businessman and independent candidate Talon ran for president on a promise that he would serve only one term, and won in the second round with 65 percent of the votes. Talon, known as the “King of Cotton” for his fortune made in the cotton industry, repeated the promise at his swearing in ceremony on April 6, 2016. Though the 1990 constitution of Benin allows a president to serve a maximum of two five-year terms, Talon maintains he will only stay one term in the Palais de la Marina, the presidential palace in Cotonou.

President Talon is intent on ensuring that not only he, but also future presidents of Benin serve only one term in office, which according to him would reduce presidential “complacency.” Constitutional reform to improve the functioning of Benin’s political institutions and strengthen governance figured prominently in candidate Talon’s campaign platform. Once elected, he swiftly set up a constitutional review commission on May 6, 2016 which submitted its report on June 28. However, as Ulrike Rodgers writes, the commission deadlocked on whether to include one seven-year term or two five-year presidential terms among its recommended revisions to the constitution, and left the decision with the president. Other important proposed institutional changes include measures to increase the independence and the oversight capacity of the judiciary, and public financing for political parties to reduce the influence of economic interests on politicians.

Arguments for and against

There is far from consensus  on the benefits of reducing presidential term limits, however. This is by far the most controversial of the proposed constitutional changes. The chief advantage according to proponents of the change is that a single presidential mandate would give a sense of urgency and favor a greater concern for the public good; with only one term the president would not be distracted by having to secure support for his reelection. To back their argument, supporters point to Talon’s already significant achievements in  combating corruption – including the firing of public servants with false diplomas and clamping down on police corruption – and implementing decentralization reform that had been in limbo. A faster turn-over at the presidency would also give more political leaders the chance to be elected to the highest executive office, in other words it would favor a greater circulation of political elites.

Opponents counter that a single term would limit accountability as the president does not have to face the electorate again. This could, they argue, be an incentive for single-term presidents to favor their own interests over that of the public. By this logic, President Talon as a wealthy former businessman is in a unique position and constitutional reform cannot be modeled on his behavior. Successors not similarly above financial want are unlikely to be as virtuous. Moreover, opponents to the term reduction express concern that a single mandate is a short time for a political leader to fully exploit his or her leadership potential. A president could be tempted to favor the rise of a dominant party, to be able to continue to influence politics even after leaving office. Critics furthermore contend that changing presidential term limits will open the door for subsequent presidents to similarly tinker with term limit provisions.

Procedures and politics of reform

The full extent of the proposed constitutional changes will be known once they are submitted for approval to the legislature. According to the Minister of Justice, the government is now finalizing and intends to submit a constitutional reform bill to the National Assembly for consideration during an extraordinary session to be called before the end of March. This will not be a brand new fundamental text, but a series of revisions to the current constitution – which is vested with significant legitimacy given its origins in the 1990 National Conference.

President Talon, without his own party to rely on in the National Assembly, must cobble together an overwhelming legislative majority to see his reforms pass. While Talon had initially indicated he wanted to submit his constitutional reform ideas to a referendum, before going to the National Assembly, he was called to order by the Constitutional Court. According to Articles 154 and 155 of the constitution, constitutional revisions must be passed by three quarters (75 percent) of the members of the National Assembly before they can be submitted for final approval in a referendum; should four fifths (80 percent) of legislators approve the bill, a referendum is not needed. A previous ruling by the constitutional court in October 2011, when then President Yayi was exploring options to eliminate term limits as he was coming to the end of his second term, found that presidential terms are among those provisions of the constitution that cannot be changed through a referendum. This would indicate that indeed the president will have to secure an 80 percent legislative majority for his constitutional amendments to be enacted.

Talon has seemingly secured the support of the president of the National Assembly, Adrien Houngbédji. However, in the legislature elected in 2015, the Cauri Forces for an Emerging Benin coalition (FCBE), which supported former President Thomas Boni Yayi (who backed Talon’s opponent in the presidential run-off), remains the largest party with 33 out of 83 seats – enough to block the passage of constitutional reform if the coalition stays together. Some FCBE-leaders have been outspoken critics of the one-term limit initiative, but the FCBE is a fragile coalition, now that Yayi is no longer at the helm of the state. Thus, while Talon has some lobbying to do, he has a good chance that the National Assembly will back his constitutional reform. If it were to pass before April 6, he would have delivered on an important campaign promise during his first year in office – proving his principal argument that one-term presidents are likely to be highly effective.

Burkina Faso – Interesting constitutional innovations

It’s here – Burkina Faso’s new draft constitution. The constitutional review commission presented the results of its deliberations on January 10th. The 92-member commission — with representation from the ruling MPP-party, opposition parties (including the CDP of former President Blaise Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) — was officially seated on September 29, 2016 by President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. The commission is charged with proposing a new constitution that will institute the country’s Fourth Republic.

So what is in this proposed new constitutional text? What are its key provisions in terms of presidential power, executive-legislative relations and term limits?

First of all, the intent is to keep a semi-presidential regime, with a directly elected president and a prime minister accountable to the legislature. The president must appoint a prime minister “from within the legislative majority,” after consulting with that majority (Article 66). Those provisions are the same as in the current constitution from 1991, last amended in November 2015 by the National Transition Council.

Interestingly, Article 56 of the new draft constitution specifies that in the event that the prime minister is backed by a legislative majority which does not support the president, “both have to determine by consensus major policy orientations in the greater interest of the Nation.” Article 56 continues: “In the absence of consensus, it is the Government [i.e. the prime minister and cabinet] that determines and conducts the policy of the Nation.” This is an innovation compared to the current constitution.

In other words, in the event of a conflictual cohabitation between a president and a prime minister from opposing parties, executive power would swing to the prime minister. On the other hand, the president would retain the power to dismiss the prime minister “in the higher interest of the Nation” (Article 66), as is also currently the case. As in the present constitution, a new prime minister and cabinet would require legislative approval within 30 days of being appointed (Article 87), through a vote on the government’s policy statement.

The president’s power of initiative to dismiss the prime minister would keep Burkina Faso in the camp of president-parliamentary regimes, per Shugart and Carey’s (1992) definition. The president may also dissolve the legislature and call for new elections (Article 70), but cannot do so again till 12 months have passed since the last dissolution (same as today’s constitution). Conversely, it would only take 25 percent of legislators to initiate a censure vote against the government (Article 115), as opposed to 30 percent in the current constitution.

The president would keep his reserved policy domain, in the area of defense policy. The head of state is the commander in chief and appoints the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. The president is thus responsible for determining the strategic orientations of the national defense policy and for chairing the National Defense Council (Article 72). This would be a significant power to retain, in the event of cohabitation.

The proposed constitution maintains presidential term limits at two 5-year terms. It was the attempted removal of this term-limit provision which brought about a popular uprising that led to the fall of former President Compaoré in October 2014. An absolute majority of votes is required to win the election, with a run-off if no candidate is able to secure such a majority in the first round (Article 57). An important innovation is the “locking” (‘verrouillage’) of presidential term limits by including them among those intrinsic democratic elements of the constitution (listed in Article 192) that cannot be changed (along with the republican and lay nature of the state, multipartism, and the integrity of the national territory). Another interesting novelty is the introduction of term limits also for legislators (a maximum of three 5-year terms, Article 101). Furthermore, a deputy may serve a maximum of two terms as president of the national assembly (Article 107).

Finally, changing the constitution without recourse to a referendum would become more challenging: it would require a 4/5 legislative majority of members of parliament (Article 190) to pass changes without the need for a popular vote, compared to 3/4 of the members of the legislature as is currently the case.

Next steps: the draft constitution will be discussed in popular forums to be held in all 13 regions of the country and also shared with the diaspora in countries with a significant concentration of Burkinabe immigrants.  The text will thereafter be given to the president for comment and then finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. It will be interesting to see if the proposed innovations – notably with regards to the division of executive powers in the event of disagreements between president and prime minister from opposing parties – will survive in the final version.

Grant Godfrey – Takeaways from the legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

The Legislature of the Third Republic of Côte d’Ivoire met for the first time on January 9, 2017, having been elected on December 18.  Two seats remain vacant after the Constitutional Council annulled the polls in Divo and KouiblyThe election results are complete enough, however, to draw some conclusions about what to expect going forward:

  • President Alassane Ouattara will continue to enjoy very few political limits. He succeeded in having his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and former president Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party (PDCI) present a joint candidate list to voters, as the Houphouëtist Alliance for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). This is a major step toward the re-unification of the two parties after they split in 1994, reinforced by its victory at the polls: the RHDP can already claim 167 of the Assembly’s 255 seats, an overwhelming majority. It need only obtain 3 extra votes to amend the new constitution without a referendum.
  • Pascal Affi N’Guéssan’s leadership of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) is threatened. N’Guéssan has not been able to mobilize former president Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters at the polls. After receiving less than ten percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential race, N’Guéssan hoped to use rebuild the party with legislative success. The FPI hoped to win 30 seats it could use as a base for rebuilding a party starved for a taste of power. The party only achieved a tenth of that goal. Perhaps the biggest shock from these elections is that the FPI will not even be able to form its own parliamentary caucus.
  • There is no public opinion data to explain why the FPI fared so poorly, but the boycott called for by its hard-core wing, which refuses to recognize Affi’s leadership, surely played some role. Expect the “Gbagbo or nothing” hawks to continue to attack the inclusiveness of the Assembly and the legitimacy of Ivoirian elections and democratic institutions. 
  • In the absence of strong party contests in most districts, commentators looked to voter turnout as a key indicator of popular sentiment. The 34% national turnout rate represents a steep decline of voter participation from the constitutional referendum (42%) and presidential poll (53%). The Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI) once again conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), which was able to confirm the national turnout rate and other process indicators. In the south of the country turnout was even lower: POECI calculated a 15% rate in Koumassi, one of four races where it conducted a district-level PVT.
  • POECI and other civic groups continue to garner credibility, and a corresponding degree of influence, for Ivoirian civil society. The Observatory of the Code of Good Conduct, which monitors a voluntary agreement among political parties and candidates to conduct fair campaigns, again denounced violations when they occurred, regardless of who perpetrated them.
  • Voters are (still) dissatisfied with top-down management of the political process by party leaders. The RHDP victory, while resounding, comes with a pair of black eyes.  The low turnout rate and the victory of 75 “independent” candidates (29% of the Assembly seats) send a clear message that voters don’t want RHDP leaders choosing the people’s representatives for them.  Many of the independents are in fact RDR or PDCI figures, including incumbents who found themselves off the RHDP candidate list.  The Cocody race where incumbent Yasmina Ouegnin beat Communications Minister Affoussiata Bamba by over 10% exemplifies this.  Bamba was “parachuted” into the race by RHDP leadership to face Ouegnin after Ouegnin opposed the constitutional revision process.  While many independents are likely to back Ouattara on most issues, or even re-join the RHDP, their success in such phenomenal numbers illustrates weaknesses inherent in the RHDP and underlying party structures. The ruling coalition seems not to have learned from a similar attempt to impose leaders on constituents in the 2013 local elections. This top-down approach to party management is likely to become increasingly hard to sustain as 2020 approaches.
  • Women gain no ground. Despite the new constitution’s emphasis on gender parity, women were only 12% of the candidates in 2016 and won 29 seats, basically holding steady in their parliamentary presence at 11%. The barriers women face to getting on the ballot are compounded by the same opaque party and coalition nomination processes that gave rise to this year’s unprecedented numbers of independents.

Côte d’Ivoire – Analysis of presidential powers in the new constitution

Have the president’s powers increased significantly in Cote d’Ivoire’s new constitution, adopted by referendum on October 30, 2016, threatening to usher in a dictatorship? Or is the new constitution balanced and likely to bring stability to the country? The new fundamental text inaugurating the country’s third republic since independence in 1960 was passed by an overwhelming majority of votes – 93.4 percent. At 42.4 percent, voter turn-out was, however, well below the 52.9 percent turn-out in last year’s presidential election.

The opposition, led by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), called for a boycott of the vote, alleging the new constitution will vastly increase presidential powers and allow the president to effectively nominate his successor thanks to the introduction of the position of vice-president. Also, a new, indirectly elected Senate with a third of its members to be appointed by the president will serve primarily as a means of presidential patronage, according to critics. The constitutional revision process was furthermore criticized by the opposition and some civil society groups for being rushed and not inclusive enough [see previous blog by Grant Godfrey on the reform process here]. Presidential supporters have dismissed these claims, arguing the new constitution reflects priorities and concerns collected through widespread consultations and will contribute to bringing peace to the country. Specifically, they argue the vice-presidency will help avoid problems of succession as happened at the death of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993.

Ironically, changes to nationality requirements for presidential candidates in Article 35, the most controversial article of the 2000 constitution, were hardly debated. Instead, it was the elimination of the upper age limit for candidates in the new Article 55 which was most controversial. Opponents claim this change will pave the way for President Ouattara who is currently 74 to stand again for reelection in 2020. The claim is dismissed by the presidential majority with reference to the two-term limit enshrined in the constitution and to repeated statements by Ouattara himself that he does not intend to run for a third term.

So what does a close comparison of presidential powers in the new and the old constitution from 2000 reveal? How much has changed? Below I compare various components of the president’s power, using the scale developed by Shugart and Carey (1992).[1] Specifically, I discuss whether there has been an increase in the president’s legislative and non-legislative powers. I also look at transitional provisions of the new constitution.

Table 1. Presidential powers in Côte d’Ivoire, using Shugart and Carey’s scale

  2000 2016
Package veto 2 1
Partial veto (right to veto part of a bill) 3 2
Decree (authority to make law without delegation) 0 0
Exclusive introduction of legislation (reserved policy areas) 0 0
Budget (authority over annual budget bill) 1 1
Referendum (right to initiate referenda) 4 4
Total legislative powers 10 8
Cabinet formation 4 4
Cabinet dismissal 4 4
Censure (assembly power to dismiss cabinet) 4 4
Assembly dissolution 0 0
Total non-legislative powers 12 12
Total 22 20

Contrary to expressed opposition concerns, the president’s legislative powers have actually decreased, according to Table 1. This is because it now only takes an absolute majority of legislators to override a partial or package presidential veto, in contrast to a two thirds majority as required in the 2000 constitution. Shugart and Carey’s scale does not take into consideration presidential powers of appointment of senators. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the ability to appoint a third of the Senate in the new constitution does provide the president with a powerful patronage tool and can increase the presidential majority in both houses combined; however, in the event of irreconcilable disagreement between the two houses of the legislature, it is the lower house (Assemblée Nationale) that prevails (Article 110).

Presidential powers to initiate a referendum have remained unchanged. However, constitutional amendments can now be adopted by a two thirds legislative majority, without the need for approval through a popular vote (Article 177). In that sense, the president’s powers to avoid a referendum have increased.

Non-legislative presidential powers are significant, but have not changed with the introduction of a vice-president. The president has full authority to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet; though the national assembly may organize hearings and commissions of inquiry, its oversight powers are restricted to making recommendations to the government. The legislature cannot censure the cabinet or individual ministers. On the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the national assembly ahead of the end of its five-year mandate. Combined, the president’s legislative and non-legislative powers were and remain significant, higher than for most of the Latin American presidential constitutions discussed by Shugart and Carey (ibid.).

In an apparent effort at avoiding the potential for divided government and gridlock, a transitional article (Article 182) provides for an only four-year mandate for the legislators to be elected at the end of 2016. The next presidential election in 2020 will thus coincide with the start of a new legislature, increasing the chances for presidential and legislative majorities to coincide. Transitional provisions also address the selection and powers of the first vice-president to take office after the constitution enters into effect. Specifically, the first vice-president will be appointed by the incumbent president, Ouattara. Should Ouattara die, be impeached or chose to step down before the end of his term, the vice-president would take over for the rest of the presidential term. However, in such an event, transitional Article 180 would limit this first, non-elected vice-president from exercising full presidential powers, notably from appointing a new vice-president and prime minister, and from initiating constitutional reform.

So to conclude, presidential legislative and non-legislative powers as measured by Shugart and Carey (1992) have not increased in the newly adopted constitution of Côte d’Ivoire. They were high and have been marginally reduced. However, President Ouattara does have new appointment powers (the vice-president, senators) at his disposal as the country transitions to a new constitution – powers which can be used for positioning a preferred candidate for succession and for cementing the presidential majority.

How the combined, significant powers of the Ivorian presidency are wielded over the remainder of the current presidential term and beyond will be of crucial importance for the consolidation of the country’s nascent democratic institutions.

[1] Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Powers are measured on a scale from 0 to 4, with 4 being the highest.

Cote d’Ivoire’s Constitutional Gamble

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington (DC)

Today, Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara’s cabinet is expected to approve a new draft constitution. The government plans to ask voters to enact it through a referendum at the end of October. While there is broad agreement among political party leaders to revise the current constitution’s conflictual provision that requires both a presidential candidate’s parents to be Ivoirian, Ouattara is expected to go beyond this and propose a new basic law. In his Independence Day speech to the nation, he outlined other major changes, principally the creation of a vice-presidency and of a senate.

A “committee of experts,” composed of renowned jurists, began work on the new text on May 31.  So far, public input has been limited to a series of closed meetings with political, traditional and civil society leaders. Meanwhile, public opinion research indicates that Ivoirians do not consider constitutional reform a top priority. A focus group study carried out by the Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Côte d’Ivoire (POECI) found that citizens would prefer the government address outstanding issues of national reconciliation, unemployment, security and the cost of living. A separate poll confirmed the urgency citizens attach to these issues, and also reported that more Ivoirians support a simple revision of existing provisions, rather than replacing the constitution as the government now plans. According to this research, Ivoirians are not exactly opposed to the president’s reforms, but do question their urgency in light of other priorities.

In the absence of an actual text to debate, talk in Abidjan has focused on the process chosen for producing such an important document and the government’s rush to pass it before legislative elections due by December. The opposition FPI has come out against the project, and a number of civil society organizations have requested that the government postpone the referendum to allow for a more inclusive process and to better inform the public on the subject matter of the vote.

The decision to go beyond the constitutional changes agreed on at Linas-Marcoussis has led to much speculation regarding Ouattara’s motives. The vice-presidency is clearly an attempt to avoid succession controversies, such as the one that followed founding President Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s death in 1993. Some also see it as an attempt by the president to impose a successor and suppress the internal competition between Speaker Guillaume Soro and Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko.  Ouattara seeks to cement his majority by formalizing the union of his Republican Gathering (RDR) party with its coalition partner Democratic Party (PDCI) into a Houphouëtist (RHDP) party, possibly even  before legislative elections. Leadership quarrels within the alliance now could jeopardize the merger. Should it persist after the legislative elections and the FPI win a significant number of seats, the opposition could even hope to work with RHDP dissenters on close votes in the next National Assembly.

Multiplying institutions could create more opportunities for participation by and reconciliation with the opposition, if done inclusively. However, many observers believe that the opportunity to name a vice-president and a large number of senators will instead be used to provide Ouattara with enough patronage opportunities to keep the RHDP coalition together. Indeed, opposition parties’ objections to the expected changes are twofold: the cost of new institutions, and a charge that they will weaken Ivoirian democracy by subjecting even more of the government to presidential control.  

Ouattara no doubt wants to make changes before the 2020 contest starts to overtake policy issues. A defeat of the referendum seems unlikely given his resounding re-election victory last year. However, should Ivoirians decide that they want a greater voice in reforms, a more inclusive process, or that new institutions should depend less on the presidency, the Ivoirian poll could join the Brexit vote as a case study of the unintended consequences of referenda.

What next in Gabon, following contested presidential poll?

The August 27 presidential election held Gabon observers riveted to their news and twitter feeds (#Gabon, #GabonVote) as the centralization and publication of vote results dragged into a fourth day.  Results were finally announced by the Minister of Interior in the afternoon of August 31.

According to the election commission’s preliminary results, incumbent President Ali Bongo won reelection with 49.80 percent of the votes, against 48.23 percent for his closest contender, former chair of the African Union (AU) commission, Jean Ping. The eight other candidates remaining in the race received less than 2 percent among them. Voter turn-out among Gabon’s 627,805 registered voters was reportedly 59.46 percent. The electoral code does not provide for a run-off in the event that no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. For a discussion of the election framework and of the institutions responsible for managing the electoral process, see the July 2016 pre-election report by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

By the evening of August 30 it was clear that the outcome of the election hinged on one of the nine provinces of Gabon – the Haut-Ogooué, the stronghold of incumbent President Ali Bongo and birthplace of his father, Omar Bongo. Results for this second most populous province in the country were only received late at night, according to the chairman of the election commission (CENAP), René Aboghé Ella. Reportedly, 99.93 percent of the electorate in the province (71,714 registered voters) turned out on election day, with 95.46 percent of the votes going to Bongo, giving him an edge of 5,594 votes over Ping. A razor thin margin. In the remaining eight provinces and among the diaspora, according to the provisional results announced by the Ministry of Interior to be validated by the Constitutional Court, voter turnout was between 45 and 71 percent, see table below:

Gabon 2016 presidential election results

Province Ali Bongo Jean Ping Voter turn-out
Estuaire 37.33% 60.88 % 47.35 %
Haut-Ogooué 95,46% 4,31% 99,93%
Moyen-Ogooué 30,51% 66,68 % 57,24%
Ngounié 41,76% 53,76% 62,66%
Nyanga 44,07% 52,08% 59,24%
Ogooué-Ivindo 65,96% 32,50% 65,61%
Ogooué-Lolo 53,25% 44,65% 70,52%
Ogooué-Maritime 29,67% 68,26% 45,41%
Woleu-Ntem 24,80% 72,90% 67,55%
Diaspora 37,38% 58,35% 71,05%
Total 49.80% 48.23% 59.46%

While Ping won six of the nine provinces plus the diaspora vote, the exceptionally high voter turn-out in favor of Bongo in the province of Haut-Ogooué was enough to turn the tables.

Upon the announcement of President Bongo’s reelection, riots broke out in Libreville and other cities in the interior. Angry protesters set fire to the national assembly building; government and private pro-opposition media offices were also vandalized. More than 1,000 people were arrested in Libreville and the provinces, and three killed, according to official sources. The opposition claims many more died. Ping called for a national strike, but economic activity resumed slowly the week following the announcement of the results.

The violence was not a surprise, in a context of deep political polarization between supporters of President Bongo and his opponents, many of whom are former prominent members of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). For an earlier blog post on Ali Bongo’s efforts at breaking with his father’s patronage practices and casting himself as a modern, transparent and accountable president, see here. Inviting the EU to observe the election appears to have been in line with these efforts.

The deadline for contesting the results is today, 8 September.  While the Bongo camp has already indicated its intention to complain to the Constitutional Court about certain polling stations, the Ping side demands a recount for the Haut-Ogooué province specifically, preferably in the presence of international experts. The EU observer delegation to Gabon has flagged “anomalies” in the number of non-voters and blank and invalid ballots that does not appear to correspond with the reported participation rate in Haut-Ogooué. President Bongo has charged the EU observers with “bias,” for not flagging polling stations where Ping allegedly scored 100 percent of the vote. According to Bongo, a recount would be done at the “level of the Constitutional Court,” which Ping says he does not trust.  The EU, France and the US have called for the publication of results polling station by polling station, to ease cross checking or results with the copies of results sheets given to candidate representatives at each polling station.

The AU has offered to send a delegation to facilitate talks between the two sides, under the leadership of President Idriss Deby of Chad who currently holds the AU-chairmanship – an offer welcomed by both Bongo and Ping.

Whoever is ultimately declared the winner when the Constitutional Court validates the final results, it is clear that Gabon is in dire need of electoral and political reforms. The EU observer delegation’s preliminary statement stated that management of the election “lacked transparency.” Public trust in the election commission leading into the election was already the lowest among 36 countries surveyed by Afrobarometer in 2014/2015: 51 percent of Gabonese surveyed said they do “not at all” trust the CENAP; an additional 24 percent trust it “just a little.” Only 8 percent trust it “a lot,” and 17 percent “somewhat.” Moreover, 71 percent said that their votes are “never” or only “sometimes” counted fairly. At the same time, Afrobarometer found the Gabonese to be among the strongest supporters of multiparty democracy in Africa; and 92 percent of the respondents said they favor limiting presidential terms to two (currently, Gabon does not have presidential term limits). These sentiments echo findings by the NDI pre-election assessment mission indicating widespread consensus among Gabonese about the need for “institutional reforms that are at the heart of recurring tensions around elections in the country” (p.19).

 

2×5 or 1×7? – Benin’s Constitutional Reform Commission undecided on presidential terms

This is a guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC.

Since early 2015, eleven countries in West Africa have held national elections to choose a new president, often coupled with parliamentary elections.  The electoral simultaneity is no coincidence. The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s ushered in political change also in West Africa and many countries began organizing multi-party elections. Their newly minted democratic constitutions often opted for five-year presidential and/or parliamentary mandates and gave preference to a strong presidential role. However, many also limit presidential terms to two mandates, a provision that continues to be a source of national discussion and even popular uprisings, such as in Burkina Faso in 2014, when then-president Blaise Compaoré attempted to change it to be able to remain in office.

Twenty-five years after engaging in their democratic transitions, several countries are now taking another look at their constitutional frameworks. As Sophia Moestrup writes, some, like Bénin, Burkina, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Sénégal are seeking to strengthen their democratic institutions, limit presidential powers and reaffirm term limits. Others, like Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, appear to be moving in the opposite direction.

Bénin recently reaffirmed its position as a regional beacon of democracy when outgoing president Boni Yayi respected the constitutional two-term limit and did not attempt to win a third mandate. Since then, President Patrice Talon – who won the March 2016 election with a promise of “change” against Boni Yayi’s prime minister and heir apparent Lionel Zinsou –  followed through on a campaign promise and appointed a 35-member commission to propose political and institutional reforms, including the option of limiting presidential terms to a single seven-year mandate. The commission, chaired by justice minister Joseph Djognénou, submitted its report at the end of June and promptly triggered criticism. Notably, it was accused of wasting public funds after rumors surfaced that each member had received between 10 and 15 million Francs CFA (about $18,000 to $27,000) for one month of work while the government has curtailed spending in other sectors.

The report unanimously recommends that the president should no longer appoint Bénin’s chief justice, the chair of the superior council of judges (Conseil supérieur de la magistrature), and the chair of the national audio-visual authority (Haute autorité de l’audiovisuel). It also proposes to augment the number of justices serving on Bénin’s constitutional court from seven to nine, extend their mandate from five to nine years, and to limit the number of justices appointed by the president to one, as opposed to currently three. However, the commission was unable to reach consensus on proposed changes to the presidential term limit, even after it postponed the publication of the report by several days. Members had been asked to examine two options: maintain the current two five-year term limit, or replace it with a single six or seven-year term, the latter openly favored by President Talon. Divided over the issue, the commission returned the ball into the president’s court to decide. President Talon has announced he intends to put the question in front of the Béninese people via referendum before the end of the year.

But his proposition may have encountered a sizeable obstacle: Bénin’s constitutional court ruled in October 2011 that presidential term limits could not be changed by way of referendum. The court considered it a violation of the decision of Bénin’s National Conference of February 1990 to declare certain constitutional articles unchangeable, including Article 42, which stipulates a limit of two five-year terms. Nonetheless, while the question surrounding presidential terms may be moot, other proposed reforms, such as setting limits to the president’s influence over the country’s constitutional court, may contribute to strengthening the separation of powers in Bénin and help anchor democratic practices durably in the country’s political DNA.

Constitutional reforms underway in West Africa

A number of countries in West Africa are undergoing a constitutional reform process, in pursuit of stronger, democratic institutions: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. Senegal held a constitutional referendum earlier this year. In stark contrast to recent constitutional changes and ongoing debates in the Central Africa region – Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where focus has been on extending presidential terms, the declared intent of some of these reforms is to build bulwarks against presidential overreach and overstay.

The constitutional changes in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali follow the violent overturn of democratic processes in all three countries, albeit under very different circumstances. In Benin and Senegal, constitutional reform was a promise of the presidential campaigns of Patrick Talon and Macky Sall, respectively.

Constitutional review commissions in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire are preparing completely new constitutions. A principal concern in Burkina Faso is to find ways to “lock in” presidential term limits and to better balance strong presidential powers. It was former President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at removing presidential term limits that led to his overthrow in October 2014 in a popular uprising. A 92-member commission representing the ruling party, opposition parties (including the CDP of Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) was seated in early June. Its members have two months to present a new draft constitution. The draft will undergo popular consultations, go to the president for comment and be finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. Opposition parties have demanded, however, that the decisions of the constitutional commission be reached by consensus, threatening to walk out on the process otherwise.

In Cote d’Ivoire,  President Ouattara appointed a commission of 10 experts at the end of May, giving them a month to make proposals for a new constitution. During the month of June, Ouattara himself undertook consultations with opposition parties, civil society, traditional leaders and others to receive their suggestions before scheduling a referendum to take place before the end of the year. Key expected changes include the introduction of a vice-presidency and the rewording of article 35 which requires a presidential candidate to be born of both parents of Ivorian origin. The constitutional review process is controversial, however. Opposition parties criticize it for being insufficiently participatory, rushed and ill-timed, as the country has yet to fully heal and reconcile after the 2010 election-related violence.

In Mali, a 13-member expert commission is charged with proposing revisions to the 1992 constitution to incorporate provisions of the 2015 Algiers peace accord signed between the government of Mali and former rebel groups. The constitutional commission will have six months to complete its job. The 1992 constitution is the consensual product of the 1992 National Conference and is vested with significant popular legitimacy. It is unlikely to be completely scrapped and replaced.

The constitutional revision that passed by referendum in Senegal in March of this year shortened presidential terms from seven to five years, and added wording to clarify that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms” (Art. 27). Other articles were amended to provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Court, although changes affecting presidential powers are overall fairly minor.

In an even more radical move, newly elected President Patrice Talon of Benin has suggested that presidential terms be limited to one single term. A 35-member commission with representation from political parties and civil society was charged with proposing a series of political and institutional reforms. The commission submitted its report on June 28. The report includes two constitutional scenarios – one where the current two five-year terms are maintained, the other where they are replaced by one single six- or seven year term. The commission was divided on the issue, as some members were concerned a single term would not provide sufficient incentives for accountability.

The process and focus of these various constitutional reforms vary and reflect different priorities and political realities in each country. Overall, however, the combined picture is one of democratic dynamism that contrasts sharply with the institutional atrophy witnessed in other regions of the continent.

Burkina Faso – Analysis of local election results

Burkina Faso held local elections on May 22 for more than 19,000 councilor positions. The councilors subsequently choose the mayors for 386 towns.  Preliminary results to be confirmed by the highest administrative court (Conseil d’Etat) indicate that the ruling party MPP (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès) may win control of as many as 75 percent of the mayor’s offices across the country.

The elections marked the end of the transition following the ouster of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014, with new institutions now in place at all administrative levels. A total of 85 political parties and groupings fielded candidates. The elections were peaceful overall, but had to be postponed in three districts due to acts of vandalism and tensions. According to the independent election commission (CENI), voter turn-out among the 5.5 million registered voters was 48 percent; this is well below the 60 percent turnout for the November 2015 presidential and legislative polls and significantly lower than the 75 percent turnout for the last local elections in 2012.

A total of 43 political parties and groupings won representation, some securing seats only in a single commune.  The winner by far was the ruling MPP of President Roch Marc Kaboré (59 percent of seats), followed by the UPC (Union pour le Progrès et le Changement) of Zephirin Diabré (16 percent) and the CDP (Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès), the former ruling party under Compaoré (11 percent). The top 10 are [with scores in brackets reflecting results in the 2012 local polls]:

  • MPP – 11,217 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • UPC – 3,091 seats [up from 1,615]
  • CDP – 2,144 seats [down from 12,340]
  • NTD – 605 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • NAFA – 454 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • ADF/RDA – 317 seats [down from 1,746]
  • UNIR/PS – 290 seats [down from 396]
  • PDS/METBA – 282 seats [down from 506]
  • RDS – 163 seats [up from 109]
  • PAREN – 126 seats [up from 27]

The order of the top three political parties mirrors the order in which parties won seats in the November 2015 legislative polls. Among the top five scoring parties, three (names bolded in black) did not exist in 2012, illustrating that the reconfiguration of the political scene following the ouster of Compaoré is also reflected at the local level. The NTD is allied with the ruling MPP, while the NAFA is part of the opposition, with many members formerly belonging to the CDP or the ADF/RDA. The NAFA’s leader, Djibrill Bassolé, is currently under arrest, under suspicion of having supported a coup attempt against the transition government. The big losers in these local elections, compared to 2012, were not surprisingly the former ruling CDP as well as the ADF/RDA which stood with Compaoré in his bid to remove presidential term limits from the constitution.

Mayors in Burkina Faso are indirectly elected, by the councilors. In 253 out of the 363 communes for which results have been published, the MPP reportedly has enough seats to directly elect its candidate for mayor. Adding 25 communes more where the MPP can count on support from councilors from allied parties such as the NTD and UNIR/PS, the presidential majority should be able to control 278 (or 75 percent) of the mayor’s offices in the country according to Salif Diallo, interim MPP chairman. Only two out of 13 provincial capitals, Ziniaré (birthplace of Blaise Compaoré) and Dori (hometown of now defunct party leader Arba Diallo of the PDS/METBA) went to other parties, the CDP and PDS/METBA respectively. The position as city mayor of the capital Ouagadougou is likely to go to Armand Béouindé of the MPP, with the support of councilors from allied parties, while the UPC in alliance with the CDP could win control of four arrondissements (boroughs) of Ouagadougou.

With the electoral cycle now complete, Burkina Faso’s newly elected representatives at all levels face the challenge of delivering on the significant expectations of improved governance raised by the success of the 2014 popular uprising. The MPP, with the likely control of 75 percent of local governments, will be under particularly close scrutiny as to its ability to deliver on those expectations.