Elections are observed by two categories of observers. They include international observers and domestic observers. Guests of the CENI residing in Burkina Faso and working at embassies or other international organizations are also sometimes included in the event that they wish to act as an elections observer on Election Day. Observation missions are usually performed by civil society or by supranational organizations (UN, AU, ECOWAS, etc.).
Under the Electoral Code, organizations that wish to observe elections must comply with an accreditation procedure (Article 14 of the Code). They must apply for accreditation from the President of the CENI for election observation. A communiqué is published at least one month before the election in newspapers to inform those interested in being an election observer. The statement specifies the process of applying for accreditation. In general, the accreditation request simply indicates, for each organization, the list of those who will be undertaking the observation. After seeing the request, the president of the CENI issues a warrant authorizing observers to perform their duties in accordance with the regulations imposed on electoral oberservation. The law does not specify precisely how observers from international, regional and sub-regional organizations should be accredited, but it is issued in close collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, most observers sent by these organizations often enjoy rights under the Statutes of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Equipped with accreditation, observers (whether international, regional or national) have the right to appear at any polling station across the country to carry out their observation mission. The members of the polling station are required to receive them with respect and courtesy. They are also required to be available to answer the observers’ questions about the voting process. On Election Day, observers can follow the entire electoral process from beginning to end. They may attend the public counting of results. However, it is strictly forbidden for observers to interfere in the work of the members of the polling station. They just ask questions and take notes if they find deficiencies.
At the end of the election, observers write a report whereby they reveal their findings, analysis, and recommendations. In general, observers make their report public before filing a copy to the CENI. The recommendations they make are intended to help the CENI and the various stakeholders improve the electoral process.
Very often, the public does not understand the role of international observers, to the point where, after the December 2012 combined elections, public opinion in Burkina questioned the usefulness of observers.
Indeed, it should be pointed out that a large segment of the public believes, rightly or wrongly, that international observers are subservient to the regime. There are two reasons for this suspicion. International observers are often received by the incumbent government because of their status as diplomats. This proximity of observers with those in power is reflected in the way observation reports are written. The words are carefully chosen to assess the election so as not to offend the authorities of the government. Consequently, where citizens and voters see fraud, observers deem that the elections were managed well for the most part. In order to grant more legitimacy to election observation by supranational organizations, it is essential that they engage in communication activities in order to explain the meaning of their intervention.
Useful links and documentary resources
- The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, Election Observation Portal: Burkina Faso: http://aceproject.org/electoral-advice/dop?country=Burkina+Faso&organization=&year=&election=&mission=&report=&keywords
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