By Ngala Killian Chimtom
Religious leaders in Cameroon usually don’t get involved in electoral politics. But in early March, a group of Muslim and Christian leaders went to see the president of the elections governing body, saying they were fed up with previous balloting that included vote-buying, multiple voting and outright manipulation of vote totals.
“It is our duty as servants of Allah to ensure that truth, transparency and justice reigns in our country, and this begins with elections in which every ballot counts,” Modibo Bouba Bello, vice president of the Islamic Council, told ENInews shortly after the meeting.
Bello joined the Rev. Sebastian Wongo Behong, secretary general of the Cameroon Episcopal Conference and the Rev. Robert Ngoyek, president of the Council of Protestant Churches, at the meeting on 1 March with Samuel Fonkam Azu’u, president of Elections Cameroon, or ELECAM.
The religious leaders proposed the introduction of biometric registration of voters, the use of a single ballot paper for presidential elections, the introduction of independent candidates, the reduction of the voting age from 20 years to 18 years, and the recompilation of voter registers.
They also pushed for a two-round ballot in presidential elections, the establishment of an electoral calendar; the harmonization of electoral laws as well as the establishment of a truly independent electoral commission.
Opposition leaders in Cameroon have been particularly pushing for biometric registration of voters as key to eliminating multiple registrations of voters, the registration of dead people and underage persons.
The rising demands for electoral reforms come in the wake of the 9 October 2011 presidential election in which incumbent president Paul Biya won by 77 percent, with the other 22 competing candidates sharing the remaining 27 percent.
The country’s longtime opposition leader, John Fru Ndi, who scored just 10 percent, challenged the poll as “incredible” and filed a series of court cases at the Supreme Court. The cases ranged from accusations of vote-buying by the ruling party to flawed reporting of election results and multiple voting.
The complaints were thrown out by the court as unsubstantiated. But these accusations have been confirmed by independent observers. Transparency International said in a report published on 13 March 2011, that “ELECAM lost the chance to affirm its capacity to master the Cameroon electoral process,” citing similar irregularities, and Commonwealth observers noted that “public confidence in ELECAM was limited.”
Linking electoral transparency to the country’s economic development process, Behong said “many democratizing countries have frequently gone into chaos because of badly-organized elections,” noting that the “electoral malpractices that are frequently observed in Cameroon could be leading the country towards a precipice.”
Azu’u and prime minister Philemon Yang have been consulting with political party leaders, religious and traditional leaders as well as members of the diplomatic corps, in view of coming up with an electoral code for Cameroon.
In 1966, then-president Ahmadou Ahidjo clamped down on multi-party democracy. Cameroon was then governed under successive one-party regimes — the Cameroon National Union under Ahidjo, then the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement under Biya
Multi-party democracy was reintroduced in Cameroon in 1990, when Ndi defied police intimidation to launch the opposition Social Democratic Front.