A man cast his ballot during Burkina Faso elections at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on Nov. 21. This West African nation held a presidential election Sunday, but for many, the winner seemed a foregone conclusion. President Blaise Compaore, a 59-year-old former army captain who first came to power through a bloody coup in 1987 and has held on to it ever since, faced an opposition so divided it could not mount a unified campaign to fight him effectively before the vote.

Burkina Faso presidential vote won't change much

President Blaise Compaoré, who has held power since a 1987 coup, is likely to win reelection – and solidify his regional influence.

Yesterday the Burkinabé voted in an election that most observers expect President Blaise Compaoré to win. Results are expected later this week. I’ll post them when they come out, but it seems possible already to assess the domestic and regional impact of the election: at home, some restructuring (including the potential abolition of term limits) and abroad, continued influence for the president.

VOA reports:

President Compaoré faces five opposition candidates and one independent. His key challengers are opposition leader, Bénéwendé Sankara, who placed second in the 2005 poll, and first-time candidate, Arba Diallo, deputy mayor of the northeastern town of Dori.

Mr. Compaoré has been in power since a 1987 coup and won the last election in 2005 with 80 percent of the votes.

Voters in Burkina Faso say there is little suspense Sunday as they line up outside polling stations in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Turnout apparently ran so low that Compaoré turned to the media to encourage voters to come out.

If elected, the president’s party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), has promised to implement “political and institutional reform, including the creation of a senate in addition to the national assembly” and will also try to end presidential term limits.

The president’s march to victory stems from his political control and also from the weakness of the opposition. The election will lead few outsiders to conclude that Compaoré has become a model democrat, but it will allow him to maintain his regional influence as a power broker and mediator. Reuters lists some of his activities in West Africa:

Compaore was cited in U.N. reports for supporting insurgents during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war that ended in 2002.

He was also initially accused by neighbouring Ivory Coast of backing rebels that seized the north in its 2002-2003 conflict, but eventually became official mediator in efforts to overcome the ensuing political deadlock.

Working in concert with U.S. and French backing, Compaore helped broker a January 15 accord in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou this year that paved the way for elections aimed at restoring civilian rule in Guinea.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that nowadays he is a factor for stability in the region,” analyst Tara O’Connor at London-based Africa Risk Consulting.

Barring an upset, then, there will be continuity for Compaoré at home and abroad.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student of Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahelblog.

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