Publication | Report/Paper

Support to the Electoral Process of Burkina Faso, September 1997

Executive Summary

The International Foundation for Election Systems carried out a technical assistance project in Burkina Faso to support the preparation of legislative elections held on May II, 1997. This project was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS). As the primary component of the project, IFES sent an elections administration expert to Burkina Faso from April 5 to May 17 to serve as the on-site technical advisor.


The IFES consultant worked primarily with the National Commission for the Organization of Elections (CNOE). The CNOE is an autonomous but not fully independent commission, created by law prior to each electoral event. The 1997 CNOE, whose membership was appointed on March 7, had approximately two months to organize material preparations for the elections. The primary objective of the IFES project was to assist the CNOE with these election preparations through the provision of technical assistance. IFES project objectives also included providing election assistance to the international donor community and civil society groups .  


At the CNOE, IFES worked primarily with the Training, Verification and Data Processing Sub-Committee which was responsible for preparing and conducting pollworker training. The IFES consultant was involved in the planning stages of the training and carried out several trips to the field to monitor and evaluate the implementation of training at the local level. On election day, he observed poll worker performance at polling stations in the capital city of Ouagadougou, as well as at several polling stations outside the capital.


The Constitution, the electoral code and a law creating the CNOE together provide complete guidelines for conducting elections in Burkina Faso. While these documents appear to allow for unhindered participation of voters in a free, fair and transparent election environment, the application of these laws is affected by the division of election responsibilities between the CNOE, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Security (MATS) and the Superior Information Council (CSI). Each entity's responsibilities were well defined. However, with no formal linkage of the three authorities, when unforseen issues arose that were outside the defined mandate of all three, there was no mechanism for resolving these issues.


The main problem encountered during the May 11 election process concerned the electoral lists and voter cards. The lists were generated by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Security (MATS). But instead of carefully maintained permanent electoral lists, as outlined in the electoral code, the 1997 electoral lists were generated from citizen data collected during the December 1996 administrative census.


The administrative census was known to contain a considerable amount of double entries and mistakes in the spelling of citizens' names. These errors were transferred directly to the electoral lists and voter cards, which created problems for voters on election day. The electoral code states that in order to vote, information on the voter card must correspond to another piece of national identification. Any inaccuracies on the voter card would thereby make a voter ineligible to vote. Because the MATS did not adequately resolve this problem, the CNOE was in a difficult position. While the CNOE had not created the electoral lists and voter cards, it felt compelled to address a situation which had the potential to make thousands of voters ineligible and thus undermine an otherwise well-prepared election.


On the day before the election, the President of the CNOE issued a directive to polling station supervisors addressing this potential situation. He pointed out that Article 48 of the electoral code allows pollworkers to deliberate and resolve difficult situations on a case-by-case basis, as long as these situations are recorded on the declaration of results form. This mechanism gave pollworkers the authority to determine voter eligibility when discrepancies existed in voters' official documents.


Based on the May 11 experience, IFES concludes that the current framework for organizing and administering elections in Burkina Faso could be improved if, among other actions:


·         The CNOE maintained a permanent technical secretariat from one election to another;

·         The MATS fulfilled its responsibilities vis-a-vis election preparations, specifically with regard to maintaining the electoral lists, as outlined in the electoral code;

·         The CNOE, MATS and CSI establish and maintain regular contact in preparing for elections, to discuss problems and work together toward resolution; and

·         More rigorous civic and voter education campaigns were conducted throughout the country by the CNOE to increase voter understanding and participation in the electoral process.


IFES also recommends the government consider an alternative election administration model: the creation of a permanent independent electoral commission whose mandate would encompass all election-related responsibilities currently divided between the CNOE, the MATS and the CSL This has been found to be a highly effective and efficient elections administration model.


This report and its recommendations are intended to assist the Government of Burkina Faso and its electoral institutions, the international donor community, political party representatives, and civil society groups in analyzing and understanding the electoral process in Burkina Faso. It is hoped that the findings and recommendations summarized herein will be of use as Burkina Faso faces a presidential election in 1998.

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