Friday, May 17, 2013

Cameroon:National Assembly More Powerful Than Senate

By Akoson A. Raymond*

Akoson Raymond
Ever since President Biya convened the Electoral College for April 14, 2013 Senatorial election, I have listened to journalists, politicians and Cameroonians of other walks of life make embarrassing pronouncements that could misinform the young on issues peculiar to the mother of all other institutions of Cameroon - Parliament. I therefore feel an irresistible urge to make clarifications in this regard. For better comprehension, I'd use Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format in providing the answers

1. Has Senate solved the problem of transition in Cameroon in case of presidential vacancy?

First, in case of vacancy at the Presidency of the Republic, the next in command is ONLY interim whose sole responsibility is to organize elections without the organizer being a candidate for the election.
Second, Cameroon never before had issues with transition as most politicians would want you to believe. The super-eminent law (the constitution) of the land has 'Final and Transitional Provisions' which provide in article 67 (3) that the National Assembly shall exercise full legislative power and enjoy full parliamentary prerogatives until the senate is set up. That is, the president of the National Assembly becomes INTERIM president in the absence of the Senate. This hierarchical order is as clear as day.

2. What is the Difference between National Assembly and Senate?

This is the most common mistake. It's a problem of nomenclature. Article 14 (1) of the constitution states that legislative power shall be exercised by Parliament which shall comprise two houses: (a) the National Assembly; (b) the Senate. This means that members of the National Assembly and Senate are all Parliamentarians. You can differentiate them by stating -- member of the National Assembly, member of the Senate (or senator). One could even refer to the just concluded election as parliamentary or legislative election -- to be more precise in this case, Senatorial election.

3. Senate is Upper House while the National Assembly is Lower House?

NO. The constitution doesn't even remotely state any such thing. Therefore, words like 'Upper House' and 'Lower House' are the figment of the imagination of  individuals and grossly misleading. Let's be careful to not confuse ourselves with what happens in other countries. Some even go as far as insinuating that the Senate is more powerful than the National Assembly. That's not true ... rather, the reverse is true.  The facts below will clarify your doubts:

A. Members of the National Assembly are elected through direct universal suffrage with none appointed. This means that the house is more democratic -- it has the direct mandate of the people and better represents their will. Also, they have commanding numerical power of 180 members, a fortiori, more sociologically sensitive. The election of senators is indirect suffrage – voted by councilors, thus no direct trust of the people. It is therefore less democratic as it is worsened by appointment of 30% of its members. The number of senators is 100. Please read articles 15 (1) and 20 (2) of the constitution].

B. Each member of the National Assembly represents the entire nation as provided for by Article 15 (2). A senator, on the other hand, represents just the local and regional authorities.

C. The Senate cannot function without the National Asembly but the reverse is true because bills get into Parliament through, first, the National Assembly for deliberations before the adopted bill is sent to the Senate for simple or absolute majority 'fine tuning' -- an action whose corresponding reaction from the National Assembly could make the existence of the senate useless. How? Article 19 (2) of Cameroon's constitution provides that bills submitted to the National Assembly by the Senate shall either be passed or rejected in accordance with article 30 of the constitution:
- In the event where a National Assembly adopted bill is amended (adjusted) by simple majority of Senators and resent to the National Assembly for reconsideration, a corresponding simple majority vote by members of the National Assembly would REJECT Senate's amendment(s);

- Where a Senate's absolute majority vote rejects part or all of a National Assembly adopted bill, a corresponding absolute National Assembly vote would nose-thumb Senate's rejection.

- Adopted bill from parliament leaves the desk of the president of the National Assembly to the president of the republic for enactment. (Read the  entire article 30 of the constitution).

- Where the president of the republic fails to sign an adopted bill to become law after 15 days without he (the President of the republic) asking for a second reading, the constitution gives powers to the President of the National Assembly the full right to himself enact the law as article 31 of the constitution so provides.

Notice that, in the above cases, the will of the National Assembly triumphs over the will of the Senate, the lone condition being a corresponding percentage of votes cast. And that Senate can only have work to do when the National Assembly deliberates on a bill and adopts it.

D. Senate effectively side steps a huge segment of the youth. At 23, one is eligible age-wise to become a member of the National Assembly. Conversely, one must have turned 40 to become a senator. It is important to note that the youth, in every democracy have greater stakes than the aged people  and, are of course, more mentally productive as a 2011 research at the School of Gerentology, Southern California University buttresses -- that cognitive ability depreciates with age. Morseo, setting the age floor for senators at 40 grossly violates international law: the African Youth Charter, which was adopted by the 7th session of the assembly of heads of states and governments of the AU, a charter that Cameroon, under the Biya regime has duly ratified obliges signatories to involve youths in the participation of parliamentary discourse. The same charter defines a youth as someone between the ages of 15 and 35 inclusive. Please see section 165 of Law No. 2012/001 of April 19, 2012 Relating to the Electoral Code and article 20(3) of the constitution.
The Senate has therefore only come as a formality institution Mr. Biya hopes to use to pay off CPDM loyalists.. Who suffers? Tax payers, of course.

* Akoson A. Raymond, is PAP Aspirant for National Assembly-Upper Bayang & Mamfe Central
 (First Published in The Recorder Newspaper,Cameroon,of May 15,2013)

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