Tag Archives: cabinet appointment

Burkina Faso’s New Government – Change and Continuity

On January 13, newly elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré named his cabinet, led by Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba. What are the key characteristics of this 29-member government? To what extent does it represent a break with the past? A closer look at the composition of the new cabinet reveals both significant political change and important institutional continuity.

This is the first instance of a real coalition government since multipartism was first introduced in Burkina Faso in 1970. There have been other governments into which the ruling party invited cabinet members from other parties, as did former President Blaise Compaoré in an effort to broaden his governing base and co-opt opposition. However, this is the first time that the president’s party does not by itself control a majority in the National Assembly. Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) only won 55 of the 127 legislative seats, and thus had to form a coalition with a number of other, smaller parties, to secure a governing majority under Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system [see earlier post on the results of the November 29, 2015 presidential and legislative elections here, and final results validated by the constitutional council here].

Seven smaller parties with a total of 14 seats – UNIR/PS (5 seats), NTD (3 seats), PAREN (2 seats), MDA (1 seat), ODT (1 seat), PDS/METBA (1 seat), RDS (1 seat) – have formed a parliamentary group, Burkindlim (which means integrity in mooré), that has become part of the presidential majority. The second largest party in parliament, the UPC with 33 seats, chose to remain in opposition. The opposition also includes the CDP, Compaoré’s party, which saw its representation slashed from 70 seats in the 2010 National Assembly to only 18 in the newly elected legislature.

The newly appointed cabinet thus includes four members from the three largest coalition partners – Nestor Bassière (Environment) and Somanogo Koutou (Water and Animal Resources) from UNIR/PS, Souleymane Sama (Transports) from the NTD, and Tahirou Barry (Culture) from PAREN.

The MPP has kept the strategic ministries of Defense (of which President Kaboré has taken charge himself as did Blaise Compaoré before him) and Interior. MPP-members also manage the ministries of Labor, Higher Education, Health, Agriculture, Water & Sanitation, Infrastructure, Commerce & Industry, Youth, Women’s Affairs, and Urbanism. A majority of the MPP cabinet members have previously served in elected or appointed positions under Compaoré, as CDP deputies or mayors, ministers or in other high-ranking posts in the administration. Kaboré himself had been both prime minister and chairman of the national assembly. This was before the creation of the MPP in early 2014 as a scission of CDP stalwarts disillusioned with Compaoré’s intent to remove presidential term limits.

Several technocrats with a background in international development have also joined the government. This includes Minister of Economy & Finance Rosine Coulibaly (a high-raking UN official) and Prime Minister Kaba Thieba himself.  Though maintaining a close friendship with Kaboré, Kaba Thieba has spent most of his career outside of Burkina Faso, serving for more than 20 years with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). There is not a single member from the military. Women take seven cabinet seats, most of which are centered on the economy and budget, including the Ministry for the Development of the Digital Economy.

Two well-known private media journalists, who were not afraid to provide often critical coverage of the Compaoré government, are in charge of the ministries of Foreign Affairs (former RFI-correspondent Alpha Barry) and Communication (Rémis Fulgance Dandjinou). An indication of the higher value placed on communication by Kaboré, compared to his predecessor.

Though there are many new faces in this government, about two thirds of its members have prior experience in elected or appointed positions or as career civil servants within the Compaoré administration.  This is not a government of civil society activists. “Balai Citoyen” (civic broom), one of the civil society organizations that played an important role in the demonstrations that brought down Compaoré, is only indirectly represented through the minister of Justice & Human Rights, René Bagoro. Bagoro is a friend of Guy Hervé Kam, the spokesperson for Balai Citoyen; they have both in the past headed the Union of Magistrates of Burkina Faso (SBM).

The MPP owes much of its success at the polls to its ability to win over former CDP-supporters, leveraging organizational structures, experience and contacts developed while its leading triumvirate – Kaboré, Salif Diallo (the new chair of the national assembly) and Simon Compaoré (minister of the Interior) – were in commanding positions within the CDP, before they separated ways with Compaoré.

This element of continuity may bode well for Burkina Faso’s prospects of consolidating recent, significant democratic gains. Unlike most of the Arab spring countries, Burkina Faso was not a hollowed-out state, when the October 2014 uprising swept away Compaoré. The election commission and constitutional council remained legitimate and facilitated the transition. Opposition political parties were organized and ready to participate in competitive elections. Citizens took to the streets and loyalist forces blocked a coup attempt by pro-Compaoré elements within the presidential guard trying to derail the transition in September 2015, days before the scheduled presidential poll.

Kaboré’s government thus has much to build on – and high expectations to fulfill. The new government will have to secure improvements in human development, notably in terms of access to quality education where Burkina Faso lacks woefully behind, ranking 49th out of 54 countries on the continent, according to the Mo Ibrahim Index. Kaboré and his team will also have to strengthen internal security in the face of extremist threats following the January 15 terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, while at the same time reforming the military. The government will be closely monitored by an active civil society and a parliamentary opposition of a significant size. It will have to demonstrate its capacity for change.

Bulgaria – Cabinet member chosen from the president’s staff and a brief sneak peek at the 2016 presidential election

Bulgaria’s Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov resigned on 9 December 2015 after the parliament revised some of his proposals for constitutional amendments, which were aimed at reducing the influence of the country’s chief prosecutor on the judiciary. His plans to reform and make the prosecuting authority more accountable before parliament had already led to tensions between GERB’s junior coalition partners, the Reformist Bloc (RB), a loose coalition of five right-wing parties, and the centre-left Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) party together with the nationalist Patriotic Front. Formally an independent minister, Ivanov entered PM Borisov’s government in November 2014 as part of the RB quota.

Initially, Ivanov’s resignation seemed to threaten the government’s own survival, as the leader of the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), one of the parties in the Reformist Bloc, threatened to withdraw support from government. The RB holds 23 seats in the 240-seat legislature, including 10 DSB members. Additionally, the minister’s resignation was followed by street protests calling for a full-scale judicial reform, which were reminiscent of the mass demonstrations that had brought down PM Borisov’s first government in 2013. Given the government’s minority status in parliament, both the president and the prime minister raised concerns over political stability and warned of early elections if the coalition broke down.

In a move that seemed typical for the contradictory positions assumed by the members in the RB coalition, DSB announced its decision to move into the opposition without withdrawing their Health Minister Petar Moskov from the cabinet. Nevertheless, the other four parties in the Reformist Bloc decided to continue their support for the government, conditional on the renegotiation of the coalition agreement and the next steps in the judicial reform.

PM Borisov’s GERB and the RB held talks over possible nominations for the justice ministry, both parties advancing claims over the position. In the end, PM Borisov proposed Ekaterina Zaharieva, the president’s chief of staff as a new Deputy PM and Justice Minister. Her nomination was approved by 126 out of the 240 MPs, although some coalition members were split over the appointment.

Like her predecessor, Hristo Ivanov, Ekaterina Zaharieva is a non-partisan minister. She took office as the president’s Chief Secretary in 2012, after serving as a deputy minister for public works at the time when Rosen Plevneliev also held office as minister before winning the 2011 presidential election. Hardly a newcomer to key cabinet positions, she had previously held office as Deputy PM in the two caretaker cabinets appointed by President Rosen Plevneliev in March 2013 and August 2014. At the end of her caretaker minister duties, she returned as the president’s Chief of Staff in November 2014.

What could follow next in 2016? Despite the coalition splits unveiled by the recent government crisis, PM Borisov’s grip on power seems secure in the face of an even more divided opposition. The government may nevertheless need to demonstrate its support in parliament soon enough, as the opposition Socialists are holding consultations for a no-confidence motion with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).

Nevertheless, one of the most important events of the year is the presidential election that will be held in October. President Plevneliev has once again demonstrated his ability to provide solutions to political crises and skills in recruiting cabinet talent, which can be used as valuable assets if he decides to run for a second term in office.

The justice reform is likely to play an important role in the election campaign, not least because Bulgaria’s progress in this area continues to be monitored by the European Commission. In fact, PM Borisov accused DSB leader Radan Kanev of trying to exploit coalition tensions over the judicial reform to kick-start his election campaign. In his first messages addressed in early January, President Plevneliev has also taken the opportunity to stress the need for new constitutional changes to speed up the judicial reform.