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Burkina Faso Opposition Candidate Campaigns On Ex-Rulers Legacy

In elections scheduled for November 13, voters in Burkina Faso will, for the first time since President Blaise Compaore seized power nearly two decades ago, have the opportunity to vote for opposition candidates. Chief among these is Benewende Stanislas Sankara, who is campaigning to bring back many of the policies of the man Mr. Compaore helped topple.

Burkina Faso opposition leader Benewende Stanislas Sankara is not new to the country's political scene, even though his campaign for the presidency in this year's election is his first.

Mr. Sankara has, at different times during his career, been a student activist, a lawyer, and an opposition member of parliament. But the main opposition candidates have boycotted the two previous presidential elections.

He is now the chief challenger to incumbent President Blaise Compaore, according to recent polls, and is running on a platform that is highly critical of Mr. Compaore.

"We are calling upon the people of Burkina Faso to wake up and fight", Mr. Sankara told VOA. He says that after 18 years of rule by Mr. Compaore, things must now change.

Mr. Sankara is calling for a return to, what he calls, the revolution begun by former President Thomas Sankara, who Mr. Compaore helped bring to power but later ousted in a 1987 coup.

During his four years in office, Thomas Sankara pushed for sweeping reforms, even changing the county's name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means the land of upright people in the local Dioula language.

His "Democratic and Popular Revolution", as it was called, was centered on social programs, like making health and educationa priority and fighting corruption.

Though President Sankara was killed during the coup against him, Benewende Sankara, a student militant at the time, says those goals are as important today as they were twenty years ago.

His party is calling for free education, increased industrialization, and reforming agriculture, to make Burkina Faso less reliant upon food imports.

Mr. Sankara criticizes, what he calls a lack of response from President Compaore, when the country's population was recently threatened with widespread food shortages. He says he finds it revolting that a month ago people were starving and today Mr. Compaore can find the money to mount an expensive campaign.

President Compaore has been praised by international economists for making improvements to cotton dependent Burkina Faso. But the country consistently ranks among the poorest in the world.

One woman in the capital Ouagadougou says little wealth has trickled down to average Bukinabes and, she says, candidates in this election must prove they can do something about that.

"Our expectations are more or less for the economy," she said. "If he can develop our economy and help poor people to have a decent life."

About a dozen candidates are on the ballot for Sunday's polls. Elections officials say more than four million Burkinabes will be eligible to participate.