Cameroon: electoral code does not address democratic concerns

29 May 2012

Following the presidential elections held on 9 October 2011 in Cameroon, the Socialist International renewed its clear call for true democracy in that country. Having followed developments in Cameroon over a number of years and having had representatives present during and in the run-up to the elections, the International identified a number of key areas of concern which would need to be addressed by the Cameroonian authorities in order for future elections in that country to meet internationally accepted standards.

In relation to the holding of the elections, the International stressed the need to address the biased composition and lack of independence of the electoral commission, known locally as ELECAM (Elections Cameroon). Without representation of civil society or opposition members, ELECAM’s independence was evidently questionable, not least because its board members were directly appointed by the President. Equally, SI representatives pointed to the need for a clear and precise electoral register and the importance of a single ballot paper to avoid abuses in the electoral process and guarantee equal opportunities to all candidates.

The SI member Social Democratic Front (SDF) and other opposition parties rightly made addressing these issues a key priority and central to their legitimate demands for a new electoral code. Though the President of Cameroon belatedly conceded to the adoption of an Electoral Code, this code does not address the fundamental shortcomings of the current electoral system.

The key demands of opposition parties for a framework that will guarantee their rights in future elections have not been met. Proposals made by the Cameroonian opposition, such as the vital need to overhaul ELECAM to make it a truly independent organisation, the implementation of biometric technology for use in the electoral process, and the abolition of presidential powers to create special constituencies have been ignored.

Despite earlier assurances from the prime minister that the code would be adopted on a consensual basis, measures that had the backing of the majority of Cameroonians have been rejected as unconstitutional. These demands, such as limiting the presidential mandate, holding a two-round presidential election, creating single constituencies for legislative elections and using a single ballot paper, could have been included in the electoral code with a constitutional amendment similar to the one which in 1996 permitted the incumbent president to stand for re-election. The importance of these measures is such that it is imperative for a constitutional amendment to be passed to allow the adoption of an electoral code that would guarantee free, fair and transparent elections.

The ruling party has once more shown by its actions that it is only pursuing superficial reforms that suit its own interests, making a mockery of their claims that the electoral code would be consensually elaborated. The absence of democracy in Cameroon and the determination of the regime to continue to hold power are at the heart of social and economic stagnation.

The dramatically low turnout in last year’s presidential elections is a reflection of the belief held by many that there is nothing they can do to have an impact on political life. To regain faith in the political process, the people need to see that the authorities are prepared to accept the will of the majority, a requirement that is regrettably absent from Cameroon’s present government. By ignoring demands for change and maintaining a façade of democracy, they are simply prolonging the critical political problems and their negative social and economic impact on the population.

The Socialist International reiterates its calls for a new electoral code that responds to the needs of Cameroon. We will continue to closely monitor the situation, in full support of the SDF and their endeavours to achieve true democracy and the recognition of all the rights of the people.