Bogus elections fuel voter apathy

For the better part of this decade serious opinion leaders and Civil Society Organisations have been working flat out to stem the tide of voter apathy in Cameroon. Independent of ELECAM (the toothless official Elections Management Board), they ran an unprecedented media campaign to win back those who no longer believed in elections as a reliable instrument of political change. Systemic and systematized electoral fraud had pushed millions to the conclusion that their votes did not count and so it was pointless casting them. It became an open secret that the ruling party tailored the result of every election to suit its agenda, using every rigging technique in the book – from gerrymandering through vote buying to the stuffing of ballot boxes.
But as a testament to the success of Civil Society’s campaign to reverse this trend the last municipal, legislative and presidential elections registered a commendable upsurge in voter participation.
Now the regime, by the just-ended charade called Senatorial elections, has undone in one stroke all the work that these stakeholders took so long to do. Electoral mismanagement is winning the tug-of-war again.
Ask any member of the ruling CPDM party about that election and they answer you with a swagger, “We decided to give only one Region (the Northwest) to the opposition.” In this assertion, they seem to throw all caution to the wind, mindless that they are actually confirming allegation of electoral fraud. But even ignoring their bluster, one has to be blind to not see the systemic fraud built into the electoral code itself, with the complicity of a legislature that is a product of the same fraud.
1. The law required the senatorial elections to be preceded by municipal elections since it is the councilors who elect the senators. Now there is a so-called Anglophone elite who noisily claims paternity for the idea of making the Council and Senatorial elections swap places. The establishment embraced the proposal, fearing that the opposition might sweep the councils and hence elect a hostile senate. Nobody in the ruling party raised a finger about the illegality of this exercise, and a President who swore to defend the Constitution implemented it with no qualms. Somebody, please, tell Mr. Biya that that is called shifting the goal posts in the course of play, and that is fraud.
Councilors interviewed after the election were unapologetic about having voted for the candidates on the lists approved by party hierarchy, meaning their party chair who happens to be President Biya. And so the President has not only the last word on who can be CPDM senator among the 70 out of 100, but also the prerogative to appoint the remaining 30 all by himself. Gosh! What kind of outrageous law could put so much power in the hands of one man in this day and age?
Needless to reiterate that this sham election took place while the country was, and still is at war – a clear indication that power and position matter more to the establishment than do the lives of citizens. Now you have a CPDM senate, and willy-nilly, if the same causes produce the same effects, maneuvers in the works will produce a CPDM-dominated parliament. All the national institutions will thus be managed by the same zombies, with none of them having conscience enough to say, “for God’s sake, this has been going on for too long and I want out,” and none recognizing that Cameroon needs a new direction.
And since everybody’s survival in the ruling party is manifestly predicated on working to keep Biya in power, he does not even have to have declared his candidacy to be sure that the outcome of the elections will be custom-tailored to satisfy his mania for power, or better still, to comfort him in his fear of what could befall him, were he to lose it.
This foregone victory for Biya and his party can only be a death blow to democracy in Cameroon, because it is an open invitation for the ghost of voter apathy to come galloping back. The political process in Cameroon has been reduced to a puppet show with one man pulling the strings, and that cannot but vindicate those who hold that change has to come by some means other than through the ballot box. And that is a sleep-depriving prospect.
On the verge of losing its battle against voter apathy, Civil Society is now reduced to rallying to observe the elections. Their hope, in so doing, is not that their action could miraculously force due process in the conduct of the elections, but that their exit reports (parallel tabulation) would give the world the true picture of the goings-on. That, in turn, would be in the hope that international opinion, if properly informed, will take appropriate measures to bring the regime to the straight and narrow. As for how willing or able that international community is to do its job, that is another kettle of fish.

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