Monday, October 21, 2013

Cameroon: Fabricated Electoral Majorities: Time for Paul Biya to Think Differently!

By Asonganyi Tazoacha
OK, however they came by it, the CPDM once more has the “comfortable” or “large” majority it was asking for. It won 305 of the 360 council areas, and 148 of the 180 parliamentary seats. The case of the senate is since history. So, not much has changed. What it could do in the past with its “comfortable” majorities, it can still do today.

By Paul Biya’s own understanding, when he finally accepts the putting in place of what the 1996 Constitution describes as a Constitutional Council, his “democratization process” would have gone full cycle. He would have come to the end of what he described in the past as his mission of “bringing (or giving) democracy to Cameroon.”

Paul Biya is important in the political chessboard of Cameroon because he is President of the “Republic,” and head of “State.” So the question that should be asked and answered today, perhaps urgently, is how we came by a “republic” and a “state” whose “president” or “head” Paul Biya has been proudly totting around since 1982.

In principle, the “republic” is the political form – the structure - that preserves the public space where free, unimpeded social and political activities are carried out by the people. That public space is called society. The political structure of society is the “state.” The French view society as corrupted, with the task of the state (government) being to influence society in a positive corrective manner. The task of the French Revolution was therefore to construct a state – detached from the King - capable of imposing itself upon the disorganized movement of society.

Indeed, the French Revolution which lasted from1789 to1799 was a period of radical social and political upheavals in France, marked by events like the proclamation of the Tennis Court Oath, the assault on the Bastille, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and the march on Versailles, all of which culminated in the proclamation of a “republic” and the execution of King Louis XVI.

Indeed, the French Revolution went through phases of temporary halts, debates, self-doubt, coups and restorations. The victory of republicans over monarchists at the beginning of the Third French Republic marked the victory of the Revolution across France. The French revolution therefore instituted what we can refer to as constitutional republicanism. The acquisitions of the French Revolution can be said to be epitomized by the French Constitution of October 5, 1958, which remains the government project – or blueprint - of France up to today.

Our own history has it that at independence in 1960, French Cameroun inherited from France, a highly centralized Jacobin-type “republic” with an oppressive state charged with transforming the Cameroun society with the force of arms or the force of law. The “republic” and the “state” as we know them today are therefore not an inheritance, a legacy from our forefathers. We became heirs to them by a twist of history. Thus, not having shed sweat and blood for the advent of the “republic” like the French did, commonsense required that after the “republic” and the “state” were thrust onto us, and reunification was overlaid on them, we had to sit down and think about the type of institutions we needed for the exercise of power, that would best define our own state, our own republic and society, and our own democracy, rather than blindly impose French-type institutions on the French-type “republic” and “state” we inherited from France, and hope that we have completed the process of “bringing democracy” to Cameroon.

Interestingly, in the French old order which was overthrown to institute the republic, the Monarch was the representative of the state, the particular incarnation of its universality; the Monarch was the state. He reigned absolutely, and the law (the constitution) constituted him as the King, and he represented the fundamental law. Unfortunately, the “republic” that was handed down to us by France was imprisoned in the French Old Regime’s political logic because one man seemed to be constituted like the King of Cameroon. Human nature, the reunification project, and other demands of history imposed an urgent need on us, and required that we undergo self-examination to get out of the “prison,” and institute a republican model accepted by all of us.

Instead, Paul Biya for over 30 years has been the subject/object of his political initiatives. He has been the subject that proposes laws and the object to which the laws are applied. He promised to give democracy to society, but the process of giving the democracy became a series of circles he spun around power, to protect it for himself. The process of “giving” democracy became a frustration for those who wanted a legitimate political order; and an opportunity for those who wanted a political order cut to size, to serve Paul Biya and those who gyrated around him.

He has repeatedly fabricated “comfortable” majorities at elections, and used them to make laws for the rest of us. The laws, invariably, always failed to meet Immanuel Kant’s touchstone for good laws: they were not laws that “the people could have willingly imposed on itself.” The fabricated “majorities” have been used over and over again to put the people in a state of helplessness by “unjust coercion, by treacherous designs,” and by a series of ruses.

I agree with my friend Azore Opio that Cameroon is sick, bedeviled. The present “laws” in Cameroon can only be compared to French laws which Louis Antoine de Saint-Just described during the French Revolution as laws that “those executing them are not revolutionary enough …In the present conditions of the Republic, the constitution cannot be established…It would become the guarantee of threats to liberty because it would lack the violence necessary to repress those threats…It is impossible for revolutionary laws to be executed if the government itself is not constituted in a revolutionary manner…”

We cannot continue to amuse ourselves in a “republic” where power is not checked. We have to stop behaving as if we do not know that it is the checks and balances provided by institutions that are important, not just the separation of powers. We have to agree that the power exercised on our behalf must be derived from inside society; that a government has authority over society only in so far as it is part of society, and knows itself as part of society.

In France from whom we got the concept of the “republic” and the “state”, the President of the Republic is only the administrator, not the owner of res publica – the republic. All Powers emanate from the Nation; and the powers are only exercised by strict delegation. According to the constitution of France, “National sovereignty shall vest in the people, who shall exercise it through their representatives and by means of referendum. No section of the people or any individual may arrogate to itself, or to himself, the exercise thereof.” The revolution had ended the reign of a King – an individual – through whom the people exercised their sovereignty.

In our Cameroon of today, the constitution states that “National sovereignty shall be vested in the people of Cameroon who shall exercise same either through the President of the Republic and Members of Parliament or by way of referendum. No section of the people or any individual shall arrogate to itself or to himself the exercise thereof.”

The Cameroon constitution can be said to be a copy of the modern French constitution emasculated and purged of all efforts at checks and balances, and then bound as the constitution for Cameroon. The President of the Republic of Cameroon is constituted as the French King of yore – having full control over the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Like Maximilien Robespierre of the French Revolution, he exercises a monopoly of power exactly as had the despots of the French Old Regime.

This cannot be allowed to continue to endure. Time has come for Paul Biya to think differently, following this other fabricated electoral majority.

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