Friday, October 4, 2013


Following pressure from some Journalists who assumed that since I have observed elections in other countries, I would “obviously” be on the field observing the twin elections of September 30, 2013, I started developing some interest in the elections. Further, when an interview with me was aired on Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV), this generated further self-interrogation and I finally decided to observe the elections in Yaoundé as an individual.
I rushed to Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) on 25th September to enquire if I could be accredited to observe the elections. This decision was a reflex based on the practices of Electoral Commissions in Ghana and Nigeria where I have observed elections – it is the Electoral Commission that issued such accreditation. However, based on the provisions of Article 296 of the Electoral Code, I was informed that such accreditation could only be done by the Minister in charge of territorial administration and decentralisation (MINATD). I was advised to contact the Director of Political Affairs (DAP) at MINATD. I rushed to MINATD where I was informed by the DAP that I should instead contact the Director of Judicial Affairs. Unfortunately the Director of Judicial affairs was absent from his office. When I met the Director of Judicial Affairs on September 26, 2013, he asked me to submit an official application. I did so about an hour after that and was asked to come back the following day – Friday September 27, 2013. When I returned there on Friday, there seemed to be many other persons waiting to be attended to, so on his advice, I left and only returned on Saturday since he said he would work on Saturday. We fixed an appointment for 9:00 a.m.
When I got there at 9:00 a.m. the following day, the Policemen on guard did not even allow me to step into the building. They explained that they had been given “firm” instructions not to allow anybody to enter the building, and that they were further “instructed” to inform anybody who came for a badge that issuing of badges had since ended and no new badges would be issued.
Embarrassed by the high handedness of the Policemen, I rushed to ELECAM again and explained the problem I was facing at MINATD. Luckily the head of the communication service at ELECAM had the phone number of the Director of Judicial Affairs at MINATD; she called him. Surprisingly, the Director was very apologetic and said he got to his office later than our appointed 9:00 a.m., and that my badge was ready, so I could come for it since he was in the office.
I went back there and the police officers, without uttering a word, showed me the way in. I collected the badge plus a copy of the Electoral Code (printed by MINATD) and a copy of the “Observer’s Code of Conduct.”
When I had the badge, I suddenly found the possibility of going to the field to observe the elections alone not too comfortable so I contacted some friends to join me. Happily the following did:
1)    Lawyer Taboh Gideon Chefor, an experienced Long Term Observer (LTO) of Elections for the National Democratic Institute for Democracy (NDI) and The Carter Centre both of the USA. We met in Ghana in 2008 to observe the Ghanaian Presidential election in the delegation of The Carter Centre, and in Nigeria in 2011 in the NDI delegation to observe the general elections. He has also observed elections in the DR Congo, and Nepal in Asia.
2)    Lawyer Evaristus Morfaw.  Member of the Cameroon Bar, and Human Rights Advocate/Activist.
3)    Mr. Mombari Stephen, Political Activist in Yaoundé for the last 20 years. He acted as our guide around Yaoundé.
Although these associates had no official accreditation, and therefore had no badges, we only encountered problems at the Bastos Primary School where we decided to observe the opening of the polling station. They were not allowed to go through the security Laser Screening gate, so I went in alone. Otherwise, the officials of the other polling Stations we visited, very graciously allowed all of us into the polling stations, and cooperated with us.

1)    Submission of candidature files:
A total of 35 political parties submitted varying numbers of files for the municipal elections while 29 submitted files for the legislative elections. There were 360 Council areas and 180 Parliamentary seats. The CPDM ruling party put in lists for 359 Council areas, as well as for all 180 parliamentary seats. No opposition political party came near these numbers for both elections. In Yaoundé, three parties (CPDM, MRC and UPC) had lists for legislative elections while some nine parties (seen in polling stations) competed in one or the other of the seven council areas for the council elections.
The difficulty of presenting lists by opposition parties is not so much because they are not represented nationwide. It is more because of the inability of their members to pay the exorbitant candidature fees (see Tables I & II below). As defined by Article 173 of the Electoral Code, the number of municipal councillors in a list of candidates can be 25, 31, 35, 41 or 61. This means that to present a list, an amount of from One million two hundred and fifty thousand (1.250.000) FCFA to three million and fifty thousand (3.050.000) FCFA has to be paid into the public treasury; plus other expenses to build the file of each candidate. Most of the time, only a few potential candidates can bear such expenditures; they usually do not have much more to help the others, and when the political party cannot afford the money too, a list cannot be presented. Further, the brief period of 15 days prescribed by Article 181 of the Electoral Code during which the files must be submitted, at the risk of disqualification if they are submitted later, is also considered by some to be too short for such funds to be mobilised.
Another demobilising element was the constant postponement of the Municipal and Legislative elections that were supposed to be held since 2012. Most grassroots members of parties started to consider the “impending” elections as a joke, until the Presidential decree of July 2, 2013 convening the electoral corps was published.

Table I: Candidature fees for Municipal Elections
Law N° 92/002 of 14 August 1992
Law N° 95/24 of 11 December 1995
Law N° 2006/010 of 29 December 2006
Law N°2012/001 of 19 April 2012
(Electoral Code)
Law N° 2012/017 of 21 December 2012 (Electoral Code)
Art 21(1): 25.000 FCFA

Art 21(1): 25.000 FCFA
Art 183: 50.000 FCFA
Art 183: 50.000 FCFA

Table II: Candidature fees for Legislative Elections
Law N° 91/20 of 16 December 1991
Law N° 2006-9 of 29 December 2006
Law N°2012/001 of 19 April 2012
(Electoral Code)
Law N° 2012/017 of 21 December 2012 (Electoral Code)
Art 71 (1): 250.000 FCFA
Art 71(1): 500.000 FCFA
Art 166: 3.000.000 FCFA
Art 166: 1.000.000 FCFA*
*, Figure given in Electoral Code distributed by ELECAM; Code distributed by MINATD leaves it at 3.000.000 FCFA.
2) Stifling of the press:
Debate and discussion of public issues should be robust, uninhibited and wide-open. Elections constitute a very important public issue. They are too important to be left in the hands of political parties alone, especially when dogmatic slogans are rampant during campaigns, and most candidates of the CPDM talk mainly about Paul Biya, while most opposition candidates talk mainly about the age and uselessness of the CPDM regime that needs to be changed. There are many people that do not belong to political parties, but who are strong advocates of all types of public issues; such people would want only the best candidates to be voted by the people. This is why decision N° 034/MINCOM of 13 September 2013 related to the suspension of programmes of “political character” during the electoral campaign period is difficult to understand. It is a decision that unnecessarily stifled debate, and left the people at the mercy of political parties to promise them heaven and earth. It deprived the people of the opportunity for political education at the crucial moment when they needed such education to make the “best” choice.
Further, the decision of the National Communication Council (NCC) September 5, 2013 was a conscious effort to intimidate the media before the campaign period. This was completed by a document titled “Handbook for journalist during elections.” Although the provision of Article 113 of the electoral code states that “Once counting is over, the results obtained in each polling station shall be proclaimed,” the NCC harped too much on the prohibition of the “publication of trends” as if it does not know that “proclamation of results” puts the results in the public domain, and so making them hot news for the press. The use of partisan interpretation of laws to stifle the news media does not speak well of the NCC.
Additionally, the formula used to distribute broadcast time over the state media-CRTV left some parties with less than a minute to present their political programs; this exposed inequity in the access to public media, and cheated such political parties in the few constituencies they were competing in.   
1)    Pre-planning:
To observe the elections, we adopted the approach of The Carter Center. Firstly, we used forms similar to the ones The Carter Centre used for the observation of the Legislative elections in Ghana in 2008. We used similar forms to record observations at the opening of a polling station, during the voting process in chosen polling stations, and during the closing of a polling station.  Secondly, we identified the polling stations where we would observe the opening ceremony (EMP Bilingue Bastos A) and the closing ceremony (EP Essos II A). We also decided to randomly select polling stations in all seven council areas in Yaoundé to visit during the day. The Polling Stations we visited are presented in Table III below. All the polling stations were part of polling centres where there were on the average, more than three other adjacent polling stations. We only recorded the details of our observations for our targeted polling stations; however, the police officials we saw outside the polling stations seemed to be responsible for the entire polling centre.
Table III: Polling stations where the polling process was observed in Yaoundé.

Name of polling station
Council area
Time of Arrival/departure
At/from polling station
Voters waiting to vote
Police present/number
Voters on roll
EMP Bilingue Bastos A
Yaounde 1
07:45/08:45 (OPENING)
Yes/some 500
Lycee Mballa II/A
Yaounde 1
Les Coccinelles A
Yaounde 2
Les Coccinelles B
Yaounde 2
E.P. Efoulan C
Yaounde 3
Ecole de Poste A
Yaounde 3
EP Kondengui/1B
Yaounde 4
EP Kondengui /1A
Yaounde 4
Ecole Mat Pr Kondengui I Est Rustel A
Yaounde 4
E.P. Essos IIA
Yaounmde 5
17:40/18:45 (CLOSING)
EP Bilingue Biyemassi B
Yaounde 6
Biyemassi Ecole E
Yaounde 6
E.P. Nkolbisson C
Yaounde 7
Groupe Scolaire Gabriella C
Yaounde 7

2)    General Observations:
a)     Opening:
As stated by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, “The rule of law is deeply political because it alters and constraints the use of power. It is also deeply social and cultural, because it works best not through enforcement, but through everyday compliance. ...Elected officials have a great responsibility in creating the rule of law; their behaviour in accepting the law, particularly when it runs counter to their interests, is a powerful model for citizens to emulate in their daily interactions with the law.”
The general organisation of the polling station where President Paul had to vote, and where we decided to observe the opening process, violated many norms of polling stations, and many rules that the authorities insisted that the citizens should respect.
i)       The outing of President Paul Biya to cast his vote was organised as if it was an official visit to the polling station with all the state paraphernalia, an excessive and too visible security presence, barricading of the polling stations, massing up of a crowd at the entrance to the polling station with some persons wearing identifiable party regalia, three dance groups drumming and dancing noisily, delay of opening of the polling station (we arrived at 07:45 but before I got to the polling station it was slightly past 8:00 due to security checks, etc.; we departed at 8:45 without any voting having started. When we returned to the polling station at 10:30, timid voting had already started because I saw one person voting, but no people waiting to vote).
ii)    Difficult access to the polling station (when we arrived in front of the polling station, we were directed to drive away and park at the foot of the Congress Centre from where we walked the distance of about one kilometre to the polling station).
iii)  I was refused access into the polling station after I went through the security checks. I observed many national and international observers (and probably journalists) hemmed in at one corner of the hall, seated behind a barricade and apparently “observing” from a distance.
iv)  The adjacent halls where there were other polling stations could not also open normally because of the unnecessary disturbances.
After observing the opening ceremony in Bastos, we visited 12 polling stations in various Council areas in Yaoundé, as shown in the Table IV above. We spent an average of some 15 minutes at each polling station and filled the details of our observations in the forms. In general:
i)       There were two types of ballot boxes, some in plexiglass and some in plastic. The plexiglass boxes were adequately sealed; however, in most polling stations, the plastic boxes could not be sealed because after posing the seals, the flaps on the other two sides could be raised to create an entrance into the ballot box. We drew the attention of Vice President of ELECAM Ebanga Ewodo whom we crossed in Yaounde II (Les Coccinelles Olinga/C), to the problem.
ii)    In Yaounde 2 (Les Cocinnelles/Olinga/B) a voter without his name in the voters’ register beat the vigilance of the polling station officials and voted.
iii)  Representatives of CPDM and MRC were present in all polling stations we visited; UPC representative were in 7; the SDF in 5; UDC in 2; NUDP in 2; UFP in 2; and UMS and GC in 1 each.
iv)  At Lycee de Mballa II/A, the picture of a voter on the electoral register in the polling station had been thump-printed by another voter before she arrived; she accepted to vote but refused to provide her thump print since she said there was no space for it. This was noted in a sheet by the commission.
v)    In nearly all polling stations, the number on the cards did not correspond to the number in the electoral registers pasted outside or in the polling stations, except in EP Kondengui I/B where the number on cards and the electoral registers matched perfectly. Since the names in the electoral registers were not in alphabetical order, the failure of correspondence of the numbers caused a lot of hardship to many voters who spent time scrolling through the list outside the polling station over and over again to find their names. We witnessed two cases of voter that gave up the search and decided to leave the polling station; we helped them to find their names. We were told that some had actually failed to find their names and left without voting. Interestingly, in some polling stations, some party representatives accepted to stand out and help voters with finding their names on the registers pasted outside.
vi)  Voters with no National identity cards but with their names in the electoral roll were generally allowed to vote with their voter’s card.
vii)                       Invariably, Representatives of the administration always sat close to the president of polling station – they seemed to behave as if they were more important members of the polling stations than the political party representatives.
viii)                     Many voters’ cards were in the polling stations uncollected.
ix)  Throughout our visits to the polling stations, we did not meet any observers in the polling stations except one international observer from the British High Commission in Yaoundé at EP Efoulan C, and one national observer at Yaoundé V.
x)    In some polling stations, polling booths were made with the loin cloth of ELECAM. However, when there was any background lighting like near a window, the cloth became transparent and did not provide enough secrecy because the operations of the voters could be monitored from the floor.
xi)  Polling station 82 in Yaounde 6 (Ecole Bilingue Biyem-Assi/A), 83 (Ecole Bilingue Biyem-Assi B), 112 (Ecole Publique Bilingue Biyem-Assi A) and 113 (Ecole Publique Bilingue Biyem-Assi B) were all in the same school compound (Ecole Bilingue Biyem-Assi). This caused a lot of confusion because the identification gave the impression that “Ecole Bilingue Biyem-Assi is a different place from Ecole Publique Biyem-Assi. This created a lot of confusion. It would have been helpful to name the four polling stations A, B, C, and D.
xii)                       In some polling stations, some voters only thump-printed in the registers, but did not sign as prescribed by the law.
xiii)                     Women were generally quite present in the polling station commissions, either as representatives of political parties or others.

This was done at E.P. Essos IIA Polling Station in Yaounde V. This was also the polling station where Prof. Asonganyi was registered to vote. We observed the following:
i)       During the day, Prof. Asonganyi put each of his fingers in the indelible ink in one or the other polling station. So by the time we got to the polling station where he had to vote, all his fingers were stained with “indelible ink.” When he removed his badge and went in to vote, he expected that the polling officials would challenge him on why he had ink in his fingers. This did not happen. He was identified, given the ballot papers and he cast his votes, and then dipped his forefinger into the “indelible ink” and went out of the station. This was characteristic of all the polling stations we visited; at no moment were the voters asked to show their ten fingers for examination before they were identified and allowed to vote.
ii)    The polling closed at exactly 6:00 p.m. since there was no voter waiting to vote.
iii)  The polling station officials did not count the envelopes poured out of the ballot box; however, the rest of the counting process went on as prescribed by the regulations.
iv)  The lamp provided by ELECAM was too small to light the room adequately, so the participants could not see the ballot papers when they were raised and announced as those of a candidate or party.
v)    Only the CPDM had a council list in Yaoundé V. The scores in the polling station for the legislative elections were as follows:

Table IV: Results of E.P. Essos IIA Polling station (Yaounde V) as proclaimed following counting.
Null votes
Total votes cast
Total registered voters

1)      The accreditation badge issued by MINATD was not bilingual; the one issued to me was in French.
2)      We do not yet have an honest, non-partisan administration, yet “representatives of the administration” seem to be still too visible in the polling stations, like in other electoral commissions. It would be appropriate for MINATD (the administration) to give ELECAM the free hand to organise elections.
3)      Of all the flag-posts on the landscape of elections, the Polling Station is the one that best symbolises the sovereignty of the people; it is a sacred symbol of electoral transparency. By law, the institution that is supposed to ensure electoral transparency and fairness is ELECAM. Curiously, except for the local polling commission, all “Presidents or Chairpersons” of the other commissions are “representatives of ELECAM” appointed by ELECAM. However, for the local polling commission, the Chairperson is “a personality appointed by ELECAM” and there is no “representative” of ELECAM in the commission as for all the other commissions. This makes the present local polling commission not too different from the one that used to be appointed by MINATD that showed in the past that our administration is still too partisan. Indeed, the activities of the administration during each election period speak volumes about the partisan nature of our administration. We think that electoral transparency has no cost; all such costs are only an investment because free and fair elections breed peace and harmony, create a sentiment of popular consent and participation in public affairs, and free the God-given talents and abilities of citizens to engage in productive activities. Therefore the excuse that there are very many polling stations so ELECAM cannot afford the cost of putting a representative in every polling station is untenable. ELECAM should correct this serious shortcoming for future elections through proposing concrete amendment of the present electoral code.
4)      Either the plastic ballot boxes cannot be adequately sealed, or the polling station officials were not taught how to seal them. In any case, the Vice President of ELECAM did not succeed to seal the one we drew his attention to.
5)      The essence of indelible ink is to prevent multiple voting. This can only be achieved if the polling officials make the checking of fingers of voters for ink, one of the cardinal control processes in the polling stations. The failure by the polling officials in the polling stations we visited to check fingers for such ink marks, defeated the raison d’être of the indelible ink in the electoral process.
6)      The “indelible ink” used in the polling stations we visited was either counterfeit ink or it was not handled properly; it could easily be wiped off with a little effort. True indelible ink usually resists the effort to wipe it off for some 24 hours and more.
7)      For municipal elections for example, Article 192 states that “The council Supervisory commission shall be responsible for the centralisation, verification of vote counts, on the basis of reports of documents forwarded by local polling commissions. It shall as the case may be, correct, review or cancel the said reports.” This means that there is no provision for a recount of votes if a dispute arises. At the local polling station, there is total silence on what happens to the ballots cast by voters following the counting in the polling station. Because of the importance of such votes cast by the sovereign people, it is crucial that the ballot papers cast by the voters be properly preserved in sealed ballot boxes until the final results and disputes arising from the elections are completely evacuated.
8)      The delay in announcing the final results of municipal and especially legislative elections, and the effort of the regime to control election trends (see Table VI below) still presents Cameroon and Cameroonians to the world as people who have refused to progress with the times. It is obvious that if the process is not changed to introduce modern communication technologies in polling stations to not only expedite the communication of results, but also to protect the results from possible manipulation, this could result in serious problems in the future. Such practice would make statement like “the original copy of results being authentic” no longer necessary. The current practice still gives room for results to be doctored in transit to the various points. Modern technology allows that results could be first transmitted electronically to various stakeholders, especially to ELECAM headquarters and other local commissions, before they are hand carried to the local commissions.
9)      At some polling stations we were told in confidence that some people were loitering around the polling station and influencing voters to vote for a particular party. We failed to confirm this by observing from a distance, the activities of the accused persons. Such incessant complaints, which are rampant from especially rural areas call for a reminder that Article 289 of the electoral code (which is a restatement of section 123 of the Penal Code) provides that “... any person who through gifts, generosity, favours, promises of public or private employment or any specific benefits offered with the purpose of influencing the vote of one or several electors, obtains their vote, either directly or through a third party,  shall be punishable with imprisonment  for  from three months to two years or with fine of  from ten thousand to one hundred thousand francs, or with both such detention and fine...Where the vote influenced is that of an electoral college or  constituency or of any section thereof, the detention shall not be less than six months and the fine not less than twenty thousand ...”
It is important to indicate that such complaints on the field should always be directed to political party representatives who are supposed to use a bailiff to record such offences for prosecution.
10)  The voters do not only want to freely cast their votes; they also want to know that the votes are well counted, and the results are announced without bias, and finally count in determining who wins their mandate. We may have our own country-specific political and electoral infrastructures, but they are only valid if they promote the same universal democratic values that define “free and fair” elections. Therefore we have to make a great effort to build and continuously improve the local conditions for free and fair elections. The fact that no human endeavour is perfect should never be used as an excuse for partisan rules consciously put in place, or conscious human actions, to deform the playing field to the advantage of some individuals and parties.

We would like to thank authorities of MINATD for making it possible for us to observe the September 30, 2013 twin elections in Cameroon. We also thank ELECAM officials for their cooperation. Finally, we are very grateful to all the polling station officials who cooperated with us.

Yaoundé, October 3, 2013
Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi,Mr. Taboh Gideon Chefor,Mr. Evaristus Morfaw, Esq,Mr. Mombari Stephen


No comments: