Burkina Faso Army preps to hand back control to civilians

In continuing the rapid implementation of the ECOWAS-sponsored transition plan, the military government in Burkina Faso (which took power just 15 days ago) today gave civilian groups a one day deadline to narrow down their proposed interim leaders to a consensus choice, who will govern until November 2015 elections. Here are some key highlights from the BBC report:

Burkina Faso’s military ruler has told activist groups they have until Sunday afternoon to provide a list of candidates for interim national leader.

Lt Col Isaac Zida agreed [to] a transition plan with civilian political groups on Thursday, but no leader was named. The groups have agreed to submit a list of candidates to a 23-member council, which will then select a single leader.

In a communique on Saturday, Col Zida said civilian groups had until noon on Sunday to provide a list of candidates to serve as interim president. He also said the constitution was back in force in order to “allow the start of the establishment of a civilian transition”.

Under the charter agreed on Thursday, the interim president will be chosen by a special college composed of religious, military, political, civil and traditional leaders.

 
Let’s take another look at that constitutional power vacuum situation that led to the temporary — and thankfully apparently short-lived — military takeover after President Compaoré‘s resignation. Since many Western media sources were being a bit lazy about reporting the details accurately, I spent a number of hours immediately following the coup carefully parsing the constitution along with 2012, 2013, and early 2014 news articles from the country. My conclusion: Due to an ongoing political dispute well before the current crisis, Burkina Faso doesn’t actually have a Senate set up to fill the role of Senate President, even thought that position is designated without alternative in the 2012 Constitution as the Acting President if the Faso presidency becomes vacant.

In other words, there was no way any transition would have been constitutional, even if the Army had not suspended the constitution and assumed control. So, the “restoration” of the constitution today by the military doesn’t really fix that fundamental, unavoidable problem that led to their takeover in the first place.

However, here’s some good news: The uncreated Senate was supposed to have been composed of indirectly-elected representatives of the local municipalities (etc), worker groups, industry groups, religious groups, and (some) customary/traditional authorities (I think most were disbanded in the 1980s by Sankara). Thus, the plan announced Saturday essentially “restores” the Constitution to the extent actually possible and seems to try to emulate its spirit as closely as possible to fill the remaining gaps where it’s simply not feasible to follow the letter. For example, the acting civilian president will be chosen — by a 23 member council of representatives from the aforementioned interest groups — from a list submitted by those same groups and the 40 odd political parties in the country (or a lot of them anyway). That’s basically as close as humanly possibly to a duly-composed (in spirit) pseudo-Senate choosing a leader to fill the role of Acting President in lieu of a Senate President who never existed. Moreover, the military government has not attempted to rewrite, amend, or promulgate a new constitution.

If this plan holds up, this may prove to be one of the most efficient and minimally invasive military interventions in the democratic system of a country in recent memory. The real test, of course, will continue through the transitional civilian leadership period and into new elections (and presumably a less arcane and broken constitution eventually). But this is still a huge step, and a lesson to other would-be military interventionists both in Burkina Faso and abroad.

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Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.
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