Cameroon: Parties Renew Calls for Country to Postpone Elections

Last week, a declared candidate for the October presidential election in Cameroon came out openly to agree that the election be postponed, though political parties and civil society organizations have been saying it for months.

Anicet Ekane, the candidate for one of the splinter groups formed from Cameroon’s oldest political party, UPC, suggested that the election be pushed back by three years and a transitional government be formed in the meantime to revise the constitution, institute a new electoral code, and draw up new electoral lists.

Much as the idea of a 3-year transitional government is liked by many in civil society, it is not popular with certain political camps in the country, this despite widespread recognition that many obstacles stand in the way to a free and fair election in October.

The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, is yet to comment on the idea, but its actions during the past three months point to the fact that it is not ready to go to the polls soon.

For the past 15 years, the CPDM has not held a party congress though the party constitution stipulates the holding of one every five years. Technically, President Paul Biya, who is the party leader, is heading the party on expired time.

His mandate as party leader ended in July as senior party operatives announced they would convene an extraordinary party conclave to “renew the mandate of our leader,” as one party bigwig put it.

This has not happened and the party a fortnight ago released a one-line laconic statement announcing the holding of an “ordinary” congress of the party “before the presidential election”.

The ruling party’s reluctance to organize a congress may be due to more reasons than meet the eye. Over the years, the CPDM has worked to weaken the opposition and by so doing, forced opportunistic politicians and others to join it on the promise of sharing in the spoils which only the ruling party can distribute.

And unlike the ailing septuagenarians who were the early-bird adherents of the party and who had a pre-independence culture of yes-manship to French colonial rule, the restive younger CPDM adherents have since tasted the trappings of power and are thirsting for more.

The fear of an implosion within the party could be responsible for the foot-dragging in holding a congress of the party. After the breakaway of the moderates led by a certain Chief Milla Assoute, a more radical group is building up within the CPDM.

Some of the radicals have incredible war-chests believed to have been acquired through embezzlement of public funds from their privileged official appointments.

They have been funneling public funds into CPDM campaigns and are now set to use their acquired wealth to give Biya a run for his own money during a party congress, according to party insiders.

An anti-corruption campaign dubbed ‘Operation Sparrow’ that targeted some of President Biya’s potential adversaries for the CPDM leadership only created space for more radical aspirants to fill. And they could be spoiling for a fight for the party leadership.

Besides the pussyfooting by the ruling CPDM, the leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, SDF, has vowed that there will be no presidential election in Cameroon unless the electoral governing body (ELECAM) is overhauled to purge it of its overwhelmingly CPDM membership.

The SDF wants an independent ELECAM with autonomous financial and administrative powers to control elections from the registration of electors to the declaration of the final results. This is not the case now.

ELECAM as it is now constituted has no financial autonomy, cannot even declare election results and is virtually an appendage of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation (MINATD), which is responsible for organizing elections and has been faulted in the past for many shortcomings including the inclusion of phantom voters on electoral lists.

Whereas the SDF and other political parties and civil society organizations want an overhauled ELECAM to do the registration of electors all over again, the present CPDM-infested ELECAM has merely taken over the faulted electoral lists from MINATD and is updating them with new names.

There is also the problem of organizing and financing a presidential election this year and holding municipal and legislative elections in 2012.

The Cameroon economy is going through dire straits and the cash-strapped treasury may not afford the luxury of organizing three elections within six months.

Legislative and municipal elections are always held in March after the presidential elections which are normally scheduled the previous October.

There have been suggestions to combine the three elections into one as a way of cutting costs.

To crown the apprehensions, international donors and possible financial sponsors of the election have been putting pressure on the Biya government to effect changes to the electoral laws, appoint a more independent ELECAM board and create an enabling environment for the conduct of free, fair, transparent and democratic elections before the presidential poll.

There have even been whispers that Biya has been advised to step down after 29 years in power.

However, all these conditions cannot possibly be met within the less than 90 days left to the presidential election.

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