Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Cameroonians go to the polls again next October 9. The central African state will once more look at the fabric of its democratic institutions or what they seem to be.
The country that has been under the rule of President Paul Biya since November 6, 1982, will be faced essentially with one choice. Give Paul Biya a 7 year extension or thank him for his 29-year tenure.
For the first time a new electoral organ Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), will oversee the poll. Can they deliver transparent elections?
From its onset ELECAM faced stiff opposition. Born out of the ashes of a less-independent National Elections Observatory, cash-strapped by the government and tied to the apron string of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization that hitherto organized elections in the country, ELECAM clearly has to show a new face.
ELECAM still gets its cash from the national treasury, and despite its laudable efforts to single-handedly oversee the voter registration process, and canvass new voters, the bulk of its electoral list remains voters enlisted in the previous years by less credible officials and institutions.
The other thorny issue is the members of the electoral board. The balance of the organ was hugely tilted by an abundance of staunch partisans turned independent observers. Most of them former die-hards of the ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement Party. The naming of 6 new members somewhat diluted the solution, but this has not entirely given the organ a much needed integrity.
The Diaspora vote could prove to be too much for an electoral body, handling elections for the first time. In a first for Cameroon, government will allow Cameroonians living abroad to vote, in what can be seen as the latest democratic stride. Polling stations will be open in 33 countries abroad. Voting will take place only in countries with Cameroonian diplomatic missions. The measure is still to impress many critical Cameroonians in the Diaspora, while others are quite pleased with the possibility to participate.
The big question of this election remained if the incumbent Paul Biya will run for re-election or not? His declaration of candidacy has now been made by the party’s politburo, waving off controversy over if the candidate of the ruling CPDM was to be chosen by the party’s congress set to meet from September 15-16, or the Central Committee. A date that fell out of the constitutional timeframe for the submission of candidatures. The Central Committee of the CPDM in an act of political make-up has now settled the issue. Mr. Paul Biya will run, in accordance with Article 27(3) of the CPDM bylaws.
The leading opposition party the Social Democratic Front in a similar move convened its National Executive Council urgently on September 3 to endorse Ni John Fru Ndi, the perennial Chairman, on whose shoulders hopes of change once rested.
In all, 51 aspirants have entered the presidential race yet none gives Cameroonians any real hope of unseating Paul Biya.
The evergreens include the ailing Augustin Frederick Kodock (UPC), Adamu Ndam Njoya (UDC), Hameni Bieleu (UFDC), and….
Three women are in the race including the outspoken Edith Kahbang Walla, Esther Dang, and Lamartine Tchana.
The official campaign window is expected to open two weeks to October 9. Cameroonians will have to choose a president for a fresh 7 year term. Elections are sensitive, even in an island of peace like Cameroon, and government is clasping its hands in prayer for no post-electoral violence. Many Cameroonians want change, but also want a peaceful transition. A constitutional modification in March 2008 introduced a limitless presidential mandate, making the hopes for change less likely.
ELECAM speaks of approximately 8 million Cameroonians voting. A huge turnout will be quite a surprise, considering the half-hearted performance of the political actors involved. Cameroon could become the giant it claims it is in Central Africa, if it truly becomes a democratic example to its neighbours, and earns global recognition.