By Tazoacha Asonganyi,Yaounde.
When what is called “Offre Orange” announced that it was trying to “organise the people’s victory through the ballot box,” there was hope that civil society was getting up from it slumber to get fully engaged in electoral activities in Cameroon. However, enthusiasm about the outfit started to wane because instead of contributing to the construction of a level playing field to give the people the opportunity to achieve this, they started looking for an “Offre Orange candidate.”
In countries like Cameroon where the regime in place has refused to budge on the organisation of free and fair elections, civil society has usually taken the regime on by ensuring that the election results reflect the votes cast by the people across the country. In the process, the people are usually spurred to use elections as a springboard for forcing change in their countries.
Civil society usually achieves independent verification of results from polling stations through what is called Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) using all polling stations in the country or a statistically selected sample of the polling stations. If the PVT is performed on a statistical sample of the polling stations, it is usually called a swift or quick count. It involves observation of the voting and counting of ballots at the polling stations, collection of official polling station results and independent tabulation of these results, parallel to election authorities.
It is known that the Philippine National Citizen Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) was the pioneer of the quick count. NAMFREL was made up of 140 benefactors and 125 civil society organizations and had the declared goal of ensuring "free, orderly and honest elections" in the Philippines. It had member-volunteers from different religious, civic, business, professional, labor, youth, educational, and non-government organizations.
During the 1986 presidential election in Philippine, NAMFREL tried to obtain results from all 90,000 polling stations by mobilising 500,000 volunteers nationwide to monitor the polling stations across the country. At the final count Ferdinand Marcos declared himself the winner of the election; but the NAMFREL count showed that Corazon Aquino won. This gave birth to the “People Power” of Corazon Aquino (RIP), which produced the wave of “colour revolutions” that swept through Eastern Europe and other regions of the world, and liberated the people from the fangs of communism, and from the clutches of failed elections managed by dictatorial regimes.
The PVT also played a crucial role during the disputed Zimbabwean election held in March 2008. Since polling station results were posted outside polling stations, MDC supporters took pictures, often with camera phones, and sent these to a central location where the results were tabulated, giving Morgan Tsvangirai 50.3% of the vote. This led to a salemate at the end of which, the Zimbabwean election authority announced that Tsvangirai scored 48.6% of the votes, and that a run-off election would follow. The rest is history.
In Ghana in 2008 the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), a 34-organization strong coalition deployed more than 4,000 election observers; 1,000 conducted PVT in 1,000 polling stations of the more than 22,000 polling stations in Ghana. The first and second rounds of the presidential elections that were decided by less than 1% of the votes, was helped by the Swift Count whose figures confirmed those announced by the electoral commission and helped all parties to accept the results.
PVT has also been carried out by civil society organizations in many countries, including Burundi, Kenya, and recently in Nigeria. In Kenya Civil Society Observation Programme (KCSOP) carried out a swift count during the 2010 constitutional referendum to help reduce tension and prevent a repeat of the election related violence of 2007.
In Nigeria a coalition of four prominent Nigerian civil society groups - the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria, Justice Development and Peace/Caritas Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association, and the Transition Monitoring Group - came together to form Project 2011 Swift Count to provide “an accurate, real-time picture” of the conduct of the accreditation of voters, voting, counting as well as the verification of the accuracy of the result as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). At the end of the poll, INEC official results were highly consistent with swift count estimates. Project 2010 Swift Count concluded that Nigerian citizens had a meaningful opportunity to vote and the results reflected the ballots cast.
Law No. 2011/002 of 6 May 2011 to amend and supplement certain provisions of law No. 92-10 of 17 September 1992 to lay down conditions governing the vacancy of, and election to the Presidency of the Republic in Cameroon states in section 92 (new) that: “(1) The results of the poll shall forthwith be entered into the report. Such report which shall be made in as many copies as there are members present plus 2 shall be closed and signed by all the members; (2) A copy of the report shall be given to each member of the Local Polling Commission present and having signed it. (3) One copy shall be forwarded within 48 hours following the close of the poll to the Chairman of the Divisional Supervisory Commission. (4) The President of the Local Polling Commission shall forward the original copy of the report to the head of the Council Branch of Elections Cameroon for filling. The said original copy shall be authentic.”
Section 77 (new) (4) of the above law stipulate that “polling stations shall be located in public places or in premises open to the public,” meaning that apart from the official presence of “representatives of candidates” at polling stations, representatives of civil society can be present. This also means that PVT is possible in the Cameroon electoral process. Although the recent law to amend and supplement certain provisions of Law N° 2006/11 of 29 December 2006 to set up and lay down the organization and functioning of Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), "publication of election trends" was deleted in section 22 (new) (I), it in no way bars PVT to ensure independent verification of results from polling stations.
PVT is important if we remember that in 2002, public authorities encouraged electoral fraud by banning all announcements of results, although CRTV announced the victory of the CPDM in all constituencies immediately following the close of the polls, even before the counting started! This allowed administrative officials to manipulate results to give victory to the CPDM, in conformity with the announcement of CRTV. It is also important because “representatives of the administration” that masterminded the manipulation of polling station results in the past are back in force in Local Polling Commissions, Divisional Supervisory Commissions, and the National Commission for the Final Counting of Votes!
Other countries have seen the Bar Association, the Union of Journalists, and other key civil society organization lead the way in ensuring free, fair and credible polls in their countries. So far, these organizations seem to be just spectators in Cameroon. To add insult to injury, the opposition political parties are behaving as if they are all blind, deaf and dumb; not talking to themseles, and pretending neither to see, hear, nor read what is happening in other countries in similar situations like ours.
To crown it all, a prominent Embassy in Yaounde carried out a PVT during the 2002 twin elections but when the results were in, they gave excuses that they could not cry more than the bereaved, since Cameroonians seemed to be “happy” with the results that were announced! They preferred to arm-twist government with the PVT and gain juicy investment contracts for their firms. Cameroonians need to take their destiny into their own hands first, before they can count on willing friends!