Cameroon: in search of true democracy

20 October 2011

Presidential elections were held in Cameroon on 9 October 2011, with twenty three official candidates, among them John Fru Ndi, leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, SDF, an SI member, with the results expected to be announced by the Supreme Court in the next few days.

The Secretary General of the Socialist International, Luis Ayala, was present for these elections, following an earlier visit to Cameroon with a delegation of the Socialist International in August this year to make the case for the holding of free and fair elections in that country. A number of concerns were raised by the Socialist International at the time in relation to the holding of these elections, namely the composition of ELECAM (Elections Cameroon), the body appointed to oversee the electoral process; the need for a clear and precise electoral register; and the importance of a single ballot paper to reduce the possibility of abuses and to simplify elections with multiple candidates.

In the wake of the elections, a number of serious shortcomings were witnessed and reported by the SDF, by presidential candidates of the opposition, NGOs and civil society organisations including Transparency International Cameroon. The composition of ELECAM was a central issue, as it lacked representation of civil society actors, of the opposition or NGOs and its board members were appointed by the President. It was also found that the electoral register had not been updated, resulting in people being registered more than once; voting cards were handed out by ruling party members and neighbourhood leaders in direct violation of legal dispositions, leading to individuals possessing multiple voting cards as well as cards being issued for people who were deceased; polling stations were set up in private homes and military camps, they often lacked an ELECAM representative, and many voting stations opened only in the afternoon to then close at 18.00 hrs, and in a number of stations in both Douala and Yaoundé, the counting of the votes had to be carried out in the dark.

Voter turn-out was exceptionally low, with an estimated 70% either abstaining from the process or prevented from voting because of missing voting cards according to local and other international observer organisations. This has been seen as a sign of the deep-seated resignation felt in many parts of Cameroonian society in regard to the impact they can have on the political life of their country.

The number of irregularities observed led seven presidential candidates, among them SDF leader John Fru Ndi, to issue a Declaration on 15 October stating that “Elections Cameroon completely failed to organise free and fair elections” and further called for the annulment of the elections, “the revision of all electoral laws, and the establishment of a new electoral system within 6 months and the conducting of new Presidential elections”.

In accordance with the decisions of the International in regard to Cameroon, in particular of the SI Africa Committee at its meeting in July in Windhoek, the SI Secretary General conveyed in Yaoundé to John Fru Ndi and the SDF, as well as to the opposition candidates signatories of the Declaration, the full support of the Socialist International in their struggle for the recognition of their right to free and fair elections, and appeals for a new electoral system in Cameroon which would guarantee the democratic rights of the Cameroonian people, and ensure that their decisions are respected.