The Illusion of a multi-party politics in Cameroon
This article examines the rebirth of multipartism in Cameroon in the early 1990. How it came with no effective democratic political institutions to accommodate it. What further exacerbated matters was the inability of these political parties to present programs that reflected the aspirations of the populace. Thus a spirit of resignation, poverty, hatred, amongst other disquiet became the order of the day. Today, the country is gradually being sucked into the maelstrom of a civil war. The 2023 senatorial election saw the CPDM sweeping all the seventy elected seats nationwide. This is an indication that Cameroon politics today is a cause for concern: and that she is still far from modern democratic practices despite its numerous political parties.
The first experiment of multiparty democracy in Cameroon modern politics came with the legislative election of February 1992, which was boycotted by a good number of opposition parties amongst which were the SDF and CDU. According to them the electoral code which was supposed to funnel all elections in Cameroon did not guarantee a level playing field for all parties. The result of the elections despite the boycott showed clearly that the CPDM was up for serious challenge, as it could not grab a simple majority in the house. She got 88 out of the 180seats in parliament. Although, the validity of the result was also questioned by international observers, nothing stopped Mr.Biya’s presidential inauguration. The years 1990-1993, commonly referred to as the “years of fire” saw the rise of a multi party system and a civilian mobilisation that generated institutional changes.
The CPDM had progressively partnered with satellite “opposition” parties to gain the absolute majority in parliament, lost in 1992 and decided to form coalitions as a demonstration of the regimes openness, the coalition were used as a tool to weaken the opposition, the National union for Democracy and progress party (NUDP), the second largest opposition party at the time, benefited from this deal as members have been offered ministerial positions regularly throughout Biya’s presidency. The deal succeeded in weakening the opposition which suffered a decline of voters trust and translated into poor electoral results. In 1992, the NUDP won 68 seats, 13seats in 1997 and only 4 in 2007. In parallel, the SDF boycotted the elections in 1992 and went from 43 seats in 1997 to 14 in 2007. In 1992, 1997, 2004, the ruling party granted itself the presidential seat, sarcastically alluding to the in ability of the opposition to present a single candidate against Mr. Biya.
The growing repression dissuaded citizens movement from demonstrating against the establishment. During the “years of fire” the students spotted in protest were denied the possibility of holding positions in the public administration and from taking the exam granting access to the profession. Such threats prevented activists from speaking out against the government. Biya’s regime put in place different control mechanisms that on one hand neutralised its effort at containing the opposition. The multi-party system was stalled as the implementation of the constitution adopted in 1996 depended on laws signed by the president not only did the political system prevent progress from being made but the legal system proved a significant implementation to the opposition at both the national and local levels.
Under these circumstances, preparing for a post-Biya era proved challenging and the opposition was given minimal room for manoeuvre. Furthermore, external interventions have not succeeded in changing the status quo. For example, in 2006 the commonwealth enjoined Cameroon to create an independent election management body, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) the legislation was passed in 2006 and was repealed that same year. In 2008, the body became operational when Mr. Biya designed ELECAM’S first 12 members. However, the appointment of ELECAM members was not in line with the principle of impartiality as the majority of the appointees were affiliated with the ruling CPDM party. The commonwealth claims it has been providing assistance to what it describes as the first independent election management body. In fact, it actions have supported Biya’s regime.
Major riots against rising fuel and food prices took place in Febuary 2008 coinciding with a constitutional reform led by president Paul Biya to extend his rule.
The riot officially left more than 180people dead. What started as a protest against economic measures turned out into widespread anger at the government politics. Initially, the amendment of the constitution did not generate a strong reaction from the general public: Although opposition deputies stage a walkout to protest the move, there was little immediate public outcry, the government had simultaneously enacted several measures to bring down the prices of basic necessities, dissipating some of the anger on the issue. Every reform initiative taken by the government was systematically followed by more restrictions and repression which enable president Biya to tighten his grip on power.
The lack of political change directly impacted the widening economic gap between the privilege few and the rest of the population. That lack of political change has also exacerbated the inter-community differences, notably between the French and the Anglophone regions once the demonstrations appeared under control, the government initiated consultations which sought to implement institutions reforms demanded by civil society and the opposition following the Presidential election of October 2011, the opposition and civil society were highly critical of the poll. The electoral code of 2012 as well as the establishment of the senate in 2013 failed to change the regimes monopolization of power in place and the Key institutions have remained in the strong hold of Biya’s regime.
The electoral code grants the president of the Republic the sole right to convene the electorate and to determine the time for elections. The absence of a two-round ballot, the division of electoral constituencies, the designation by the president of the members of the constitutional council, responsible in particular for electorate dispute as well as those of the electoral commission, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), and the bias of the latter when registering candidates for elections of September 2013 give a clear advantage to the president camp.
In 2013, the members of ELECAM deliberately refused to consider the application of Cameroon renaissance movement (CRM) candidate who sent incomplete files and continued to be registered. Furthermore, the financing system of political parties favours the presidential party. Funding from the state budget is available to contribute to the expenses of the different legally recognised political parties of Cameroon. The funding is distributed in two installments, the first one is distributed to political parties proportionally to the number of seats in National Assembly, the second instalment is only provided to political parties obtaining at least one constituency in the last legislative election. However, most of the candidates do not reach the 5% threshold, thus disadvantaging smaller political parties for instance, in the presidential election of 2011, 23 candidates were in contention for the Presidency and only two reached the 5% threshold. Paul Biya and John Fru Ndi.
The rigging of the elections was widely denounced by the opposition. A high ranking official of the presidential party told the international crisis group about the different means he used to rig the election. We organized electricity shut down in voting stations and provided food for vote counters to distract them and stuff ballot boxes without them watching. Bribery and interdiction to public polls have also been employed in the past.
The conflict in the two English speaking regions have been a major cause of concern at the national, regional and international levels, especially due to the heavy dead toll and the massive abuses of human rights orchestrated by warring factions against innocent civilian populations. But the effects of the war go beyond the direct lost of human life and physical injuries to individuals. There is a developmental dimension of the war that is critical for understanding the causes of war and for designing strategies to resolve conflicts, consolidating peace and putting the country back on the path of sustainable development. On the other hand, to some extent, the failure of development has created an environment that is ripe for conflict and war. The development strategies pursued since independence have failed to produce consistent improvement in the wellbeing of the two English-speaking regions of North West and South West regions. These policies have enabled the ruler to sell off the regions natural resources to foreign commercial interest groups to exert substantial control of the region natural resources. Such a system creates alienation between the state and the citizens which is a recipe for conflict.
On the other hand, the close to six years conflict has undermined economic development. Today, the country is plunged into a protracted economic contraction that is exacerbated by the conflict. However, the region still faces enormous economic and social challenges with high poverty and unemployment rates. The war has disrupted economic activity in the key sectors such as agriculture and industry due to insecurity, population displacement and deterioration of physical infrastructure. They have also undermined the capacity of the state institutions and government, hence preventing the country from taking full advantages of the massive growth potential associated with it vast natural resources endowment and it strategic position in the sub-region. While conflict in the Anglophone region has resulted in a huge human toll and heavy costs at the macroeconomic and sectoral levels, it has equally if not devastating indirect effects that are more difficult to apprehend. Indeed while the direct effect of war attract the public’s attention, their more salient effects on health, social and psychological wellbeing of the people are often overlooked. Deaths resulting from the adverse consequences of wars often exceed the direct death toll by several multiples. Moreover, the psychological effects of trauma caused only compromise the wellbeing of those directly affected by violence, but aiso affects the entire society, and their impacts may last for generations. This more salient but deep and long lasting effects of conflict are often inadequate taking into account in the design and implementation of programmes aimed at building the economic and society in the post war period. failure to address the effects of wars from a comprehensive perspective that include the economic, social human, and psychological dimensions undermines the effectiveness of conflict resolutions and post conflict reconstruction programs.
It is worthy of note that many Cameroonians had thought, probably in haste, that the introduction of multipartism in 1990 will come along with the creation of democratic structures, which would produce a government that represents various shades and opinion and owes it existence to the will of the majority. It was also the hope of many that structures will create a convivial relationship between the government and electorate and produce a leadership that will work not for personal interests but for the progress of the nation. Above all the resultant leadership was expected to be sensitive to the demand of its populace and not aggressively confront anything that threatens a statusquo that was outdated.
One is tempted to say this has been absent in Cameroon since 1990. Cameroons democracy (as in most African countries) is not truly representational, accommodating and culturally oriented towards satisfying the concerns of the populace but that of a leadership that has arrogated to itself the complete command of knowledge and power. One is tempted to conclude that though we have multipartism with over 150 legalised political parties, this is not an indication of democracy especially when the supporters of most opposition parties are not allowed to exercise their franchise and rigging of elections the game of the day, as has been the case.
To avoid such situations the political systems must evolve. It should be inclusive and tolerate compromises, so that all sorts of opinion should be considered in the running of the country. The issue of the winner takes all is definitely responsible for the frustration witnessed by the majority of people in Cameroon today. A pointer to this assertion is the 2023 senatorial election where the CPDM won all the 70 elected seats and 24 appointed by president Biya totaling 94 seats. Finally to give the impression that it is an inclusive senate, 6 seats were sparingly distributed to 6 political parties.
TARH NTANTANG (PhD)
CEO/ FOUNDER NTANTANG CENTRE FOR RESEARCH DOCUMENTATION, LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Cameroon Concord News Group