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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 November 2005, 01:00 GMT
Burkina's leader sure of victory
By James Knight and Katrina Manson
Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore is poised for re-election after Sunday's polls, despite the West African country's enormous problems.

Even the leader of the main opposition party is backing him.

Blaise Compaore supporter
Mr Compaore's campaign draws on vastly superior resources
"To vote against Blaise Compaore is to vote against God" - that is the verdict of a leading businessman in Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries.

As four million voters prepare to vote in the presidential poll, Mr Compaore is poised to win re-election by a massive margin, despite the presence of 12 challengers.

Pre-election polls predict Mr Compaore will take 67% of the vote, with the next best candidate trailing on 3.7%.

"The opposition has not presented a credible alternative," says Professor Augustin Loada, a law professor at Ouagadougou University who conducted the pre-election polls.

"There is a desire for change. People are not happy but they are going to vote for Blaise anyway," he said.

Dominant

Mr Compaore's nationwide campaign draws on vastly superior resources and dominates the country.

Ahmed Bella, 12
I want Blaise to win. He is good
Ahmed Bella, 12

The dusty streets of the capital Ouagadougou are plastered with posters.

Thousands of supporters wear dresses, earrings and specially-designed wristwatches displaying Mr Compaore's smiling face.

The president's 18 years at the helm make him the only choice for many.

Even those not eligible to vote have accepted the "peace and progress" message his campaign pledges.

"I want Blaise to win. He is good," says Ahmed Bella, 12, peering out from under his Blaise-emblazoned baseball cap.

His family surrounds him, all committed Compaore voters.

"He will build reservoirs in the provinces, and improve the roads," they say.

Poor and peaceful

But for now, Burkina Faso remains steeped in poverty.

Boukare Tapsoba, 45
I am free to go about my business as I like, without being hassled
Boukare Tapsoba, 45

Eighty-one percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day. More than 300,000 children under five die of malnutrition every year.

In the latest UN development report, Burkina Faso's score was worse than five years ago.

Despite the poverty, Burkina Faso is a peaceful country in a turbulent region.

Next-door Ivory Coast, paralysed by civil war, is home to 3.5 million Burkinabes, many of whom work on cocoa plantations.

When the conflict erupted in 2002, Burkina Faso became a safe haven.

"Blaise doesn't provoke things," says Boukare Tapsoba, 45, a farmer living in Ouagadougou. "That avoids what's happened in Ivory Coast."

Mr Tapsoba is unemployed, but grateful for his freedom.

"Blaise tolerates and he pardons. I am free to go about my business as I like, without being hassled. It hasn't always been like that in Burkina," he says.

Exceptional

A number of scandals have rocked the administration, but Mr Compaore's sharp instincts for political survival and a lack of strong challengers have ensured he is still the only credible choice for voters.

He is standing for a third term despite a constitutional clause that limits the leader to two five-year terms of office.

The opposition lost its opportunity. People easily pardon their leaders
Professor Augustin Loada
Ouagadougou University

The rule was introduced in 2000, and a constitutional court packed with judges appointed by the president ruled that this should not apply to the time he has already served, leaving the door open for another decade in power.

In the face of Mr Compaore's domination, opposition candidates are fractured and disorganised.

The leader of the main opposition party, Gilbert Ouedraogo, has taken the exceptional step of backing Mr Compaore.

"I have taken this unique decision because the problems of Burkina Faso are enormous. No political party can face them on its own," Mr Ouedraogo told the BBC.

"In France, the left and the right have put their hands together to the bar the route of [far-right leader Jean-Marie] Le Pen. In Burkina, we need to bar the route of poverty and insecurity."

'Power is strong'

Mr Compaore, a former army captain, seized power in a bloody coup in 1987, which resulted in the death of his friend and revolutionary president Thomas Sankara, a popular firebrand regularly hailed as Africa's Che Guevara.

Blaise Compaore greets supporters at the stadium
Blaise Compaore met his supporters at a rally in a stadium
The 1998 assassination of Burkina Faso's leading investigative journalist, Norbert Zongo, shortly after Mr Compaore's previous election victory, almost brought down the president.

Members of the security forces were implicated in the killing.

Mr Compaore is also implicated by the UN in the trade of "blood" diamonds during the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, as well as an ill-advised relationship with Charles Taylor, the deposed ex-leader of Liberia, now wanted for war crimes.

"After Norbert Zongo there was a spirit of change," says Professor Loada. "But the power is very strong and successfully weathered the storm.

"The opposition lost its opportunity.

"People easily pardon their leaders."




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Burkina Faso votes
11 Nov 05 |  Africa
Burkina Faso's hungry herders
24 Aug 05 |  Africa
Burkina Faso 'coup plot' foiled
07 Oct 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Burkina Faso
03 Nov 05 |  Country profiles



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