Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cameroon presidential election: Let the opposition seize the moment!

By Tazoacha Asonganyi in Yaoundé..
Tazoacha Asonganyi
The purpose of all elections is the ability of the people to delegate their power to people of their choice, through the ballot box. When this is not possible, all else is an effort in deceit. Another election was held in Cameroon on 9 October 2011. Like in the past, either the people were unable to vote because they were disenfranchised, or they actually voted, but their votes were changed by government ministers and high state functionaries, who, like in the past, were sent to their various areas of origin to defend their appointments with victory for the prince.  They spent huge sums of money to bribe people to engage in multiple voting, to bribe administrative officials to invoke the law on the maintenance of order to cow the opposition, and to bribe election agents to co-operate in changing results of the ballot box... In short, they engaged in various types of corrupt practices to defend their posts.
All this is happening some 20 years since the monumental fraud of the October 1992 presidential elections during which the verdict of the people was that Paul Biya was no longer their choice. Following the announcement of the result of that election by the Supreme Court, there was clamour for the creation of an independent electoral commission because everybody felt that the CPDM - Paul Biya - was playing the role of party, jury, and judge. This clamour went past the January 1996 Municipal elections, the May 1997 Parliamentary elections,  the October 1997 presidential election, the January 2002 twin elections, the October 2004 presidential election, the July 2007 twin elections, and full cycle to the 9 October 2011 presidential election.
In response to this clamour, Paul Biya has been on a futile mission to invent the wheel about the organisation of free and fair elections. He has created all types of electoral outfits, each of which he knew would fail even before he created it. And he has been accompanied in this task by foreign actors who most of the time pretended not to see what was going on, like they did in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zaire, Guinea, and other African countries where they spent decades talking about "peace" imposed by dictators, and neglected justice, especially during elections, until Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping point” - the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point - finally arrived.
The latest outfit of Paul Biya was called Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), again, in dogged refusal to adopt the “independent electoral commission” appellation everybody had been clamouring for. After all, it was a Directorate-cum-MINAT-bis, surrounded by a toothless Board that watched helplessly as MINAT-bis did what MINAT has always done. From its inception, most stakeholders, including Paul Biya himself knew that ELECAM was not meant to organise free and fair elections. Yet, the drumbeat from the sidelines was about giving ELECAM a chance! And the opposition seemed to fall for it, barring the hide-and-seek game some of them were playing. Is it not unbelievable that following the letter of  Dorothy Njeuma of February 21, 2011 about the frustrations being caused the Electoral Board by the Directorate of ELECAM, what Paul Biya could do was give the Board special funds from the presidency in September 2011 (one month before the election!) to organise their meeting with other stakeholder? Was this not a message to the Board to leave the Directorate alone to do what it was doing? What more proof do we need to convince even the sceptics that Paul Biya did not want ELECAM to work? But hear what he was saying about ELECAM at his polling station on election day!
Well, following this other electoral debacle of 9 October, Paul Biya is having his rest in Kribi, waiting to be proclaimed winner again, while the opposition is selling after the market, sulking as usual about electoral fraud. Who was not aware that they would do this? Had they not lived each debacle since 1992? Indeed, following the 30 June 2002 electoral debacle, opposition political parties (the SDF, the NUDP, LA DYNAMIQUE, the UFDC, the CDU, and the MLDC) met in Yaoundé on 2nd July 2002 and issued a joint communiqué that stated among other things as follows “… ask the Head of State Mr. Paul BIYA to use his constitutional prerogatives to simply annul the twin vote of 30th June 2002; open dialogue with the political forces of the opposition in order to create conditions for the organisation of free, transparent, just and « sincere » elections... In any case, the Cameroon opposition which we represent, speaking in the name of the majority of Cameroonians who were deprived of their basic right to vote, solemnly declares that it will not accept the results of these elections and will not take up the Councils and the seats they have been attributed in Parliament in the masquerade of 30th June 2002.... Call on our militants and indeed, all Cameroonians, to be ready to defend their civil rights through a variety of actions as shall be so directed...” All this was hot air because nothing concrete followed.
The same opposition is at it again. And the international community is again at their own game of endorsing flawed elections! It is not that the international community does not know what free and fair elections are, since all international observer bodies have adopted the following concept of free and fair elections by the Department for international development (DFID) of the UK government: “To determine whether an election has allowed the wishes of the people to be reflected involves much more than simply watching people vote on polling day and observing the counts. What happens before and after is as crucial to the status of the election as what happens on polling day. Indeed, history shows that blatant election fraud on polling day is an exception, with most manipulation occurring through the preparation and implementation of dubious election laws and regulations and manipulation of voter registration. If one party has been able to take advantage of institutionalised bias, especially in the media, during the run up to the election, the results are likely to reflect this manipulation however impeccable the voting procedures....”
In spite of this, who will blame the international community? Their attitude is always that when there is “peace,” there is no need to indulge in provocative language that can disturb the “peace,” so the litmus test for their attitude is usually the people’s reaction following every election. Like even some resident diplomats usually say, they cannot cry more than the bereaved!
The struggle for change in Cameroon has been an effort not only to change those who have held power continuously since the ‘60s, but also the institutional structures through which they exercised their power. This two-pronged change was understood to ensure that whether a new leader comes from the rang of the ”old” or from that of the “new,” they cannot use the institutional structures to perpetuate themselves in power, like Paul Biya has succeeded in doing following Ahmadou Ahidjo’s handing over of power to him.
The opposition has refused to understand that they are involved in power politics. They have inadvertently allowed the regime to call too many of their bluffs, and so has become immunised against their empty noises. Between the choice of the politics of sacrifice and the sacrifice of politics, the opposition seems to have chosen to sacrifice politics, each for their personal ambitions. Organised electoral fraud is a state of asymmetrical power relations; it is about the power to enforce a particular agenda, the power to deny equal opportunity, the power to maim physically, mentally and emotionally, the power to set the terms of power! Only a shift in this asymmetrical power relation can bring any shift in behaviour. No blowing of hot air will do.
In politics, nothing is pre-ordained, but nothing is a simple accident. There are radical possibilities inherent in the project of defining the challenges of the present, but this needs a reconsideration of past possibilities and failed choices. Paul Biya has just played his last real card. Let the opposition seize the moment and provide an agenda to bring real change to the electoral politics of Cameroon.

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