President Blaise Compaoré’s pillars of support are quickly eroding, as the 2015 presidential election approaches. In early January, 75 members of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), abandoned the party, including three political heavyweights – former chair of the National Assembly Roch March Kaboré, former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo. The three had been sidelined as Blaise’s brother François gradually took over control of the CDP, over the past two years. Their example was followed by 14 more desertions last week, including the high profile stepping down of CDP-member of parliament Victor Tiendrebeogo – a leading traditional chief and representative of the Moro Naaba, the king of the Mossi (Blaise himself is a Mossi).
The reasons put forward by those who have resigned include complaints about lack of internal democracy within the party, and the apparent intention of the sitting president to run again – after nearly 27 years in power. The current constitution, last amended in January 2002, includes a two-term presidential term-limit (Article 37). Blaise Compaoré was elected for the second time under that constitution in December 2010 and should therefore not be eligible to stand again. However, the CDP has been pushing for a revision of this article of the constitution, and the president himself has not excluded the possibility of asking the ‘sovereign people’ of Burkina Faso for their opinion on the matter, through a referendum.
A related matter is the seating of the recently created Senate. Political opposition parties have long argued that this institution is another convenient tool for pushing through a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term-limits. Opposition parties have cleverly crafted their criticism of the Senate in terms of budgetary concerns, striking a chord with many Burkinabe citizens who suffer under “la vie chère” (the high cost of living).
Joining forces with other opposition leaders, the ex-CDP barons organized the country’s biggest demonstration in decades, on Saturday, January 18, taking place simultaneously in the capital, Ouagadougou, and the country’s second largest city, Bobo Dioulasso. Opposition party activists were joined in the streets by civil society members belonging to organizations such as “Balai citoyen” (“the citizen broom,” a reference to sweeping away corruption) – a citizen movement led by two singers and inspired by the Senegalese youth movement “Y’en a marre.” The protests remained peaceful, as marchers chanted slogans against the Senate and against revising Article 37 of the constitution.
The next presidential poll in Burkina Faso is still 22 months away. Tentatively scheduled for November 2015, the election is already starting to feel like a race, however, with opposition to President Blaise Compaoré steadily gathering steam. The loss of support by the traditional chiefs and by respected CDP leaders is a heavy blow to Compaoré. Against what appears as mounting popular opposition to his staying on for another term, he may choose to nurture his statesman’s image earned through his role as mediator in regional crises. Compaoré may also remember how quickly things got out of hand only three years ago, when popular protests against rising prices combined with a military mutiny spreading to barracks all across the country to severely threaten his rule. He may have more to win by stepping down, than by insisting on another term. After all, the legislature already passed an amnesty law in 2012, granting Compaoré and all other presidents of Burkina Faso since independence from France in 1960 immunity from prosecution.