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Opposition Stages Useless Mini-Comeback in Cameroon' Parliamentary Elections

The ruling party's parliamentary majority was cut back in Cameroon's latest elections. But with 148 of the 180 seats still in its control, these losses will make no difference.
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Lack of trust in Cameroon’s electoral regulator is increasing voter apathy. Photo credit: Valentine Mulango.

Yaoundé, Cameroon:

Cameroon’s ruling party, the People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), has scored an overwhelming victory in the country’s recent parliamentary elections.

According to the official tally, announced by the Supreme Court acting in lieu of the Constitutional Council this Thursday, the CPDM won 148 of the 180 seats in the National Assembly, five fewer than last time.

Three of the seats the ruling party lost were seized by the Unions des Populations Camerounais (UPC), Cameroon’s oldest opposition party. The UPC has been deeply divided in the recent past – at one point splitting into three factions – but managed to reconcile their differences in time for the 30 September polls. And in the end, they managed to unseat the CPDM in all three constituencies of the hotly-contested Nyong and Kelle Division in Cameroon’s Centre Region.

President Paul Biya’s party also lost seats in the North West and Littoral regions to the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM), a new party recently created by Maurice Kamto, a former high-level member of Biya’s government.

Apart from the CPDM’s 148 seats, the SDF won 18 (up from 15), the National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP) 5, Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU) 4, UPC 3, and the MDR and CRM gained 1 seat each.

7 of the country’s 29 political parties which contested the polls will now make up the country’s lower house of parliament. This is two more parties than before.

The outcome of the elections suggest that contestation for seats is increasing as more political parties make inroads into territories previously reserved for particular groups. But despite minor gains made by opposition parties, analysts say it will have little real impact.

“Whatever the CPDM does at the National Assembly, it passes like a letter in the post office”, said Dieudonne Yebga, a member of the National Vote Counting Commission. Indeed, according to Yebga, the six opposition parties in parliament will just be there to watch as the CPDM continues its effective one-party rule.

Free and fair?

President Paul Biya, now 80 years old, has ruled Cameroon since 1982. And the chances of the 2013 parliamentary elections – which had been postponed three times since 2012, when they were meant to be held – challenging that were always nil.

Eric Mathias Owona, a political analyst, described the contest as “greatly unequal”, noting, for example, the enormous discrepancy in funds between the ruling party – with its access to state assets – and its financially struggling opponents.

Additionally, some opposition members have claimed that the elections were marred by irregularities large enough to have affected the outcome of the results. However, the Supreme Court has rejected all 41 cases calling for a partial or complete rerun in 28 constituencies. And while Samuel Fonkam Azu’u, Chairman of Elections Cameroon, the national elections regulator, acknowledged a few cases of malpractice in parliamentary elections, he insisted that “the wrongdoings were exceedingly marginal”.

The African Union Observer Mission also saluted the peaceful nature of polls and described them as “generally satisfactory”, though observers did note some setbacks. "The use of indelible ink was not uniform and the legal obligation to present both cards (national ID and voter’s cards) before voting was not observed in some polling stations", said El Hadj Issa, head of the mission.

President Biya has hailed the elections as demonstrating the advancements Cameroon has made under his watch.

“Our democracy is maturing…we are making tremendous progress, and after the elections, we will instate a Constitutional Council”, he said after voting in a school in the capital Yaoundé. “Democracy-building in Cameroon will then be complete.”

Speaking to Think Africa Press, however, John Fru Ndi, leader of the main opposition party, refuted Biya’s claims, saying that the polls were peaceful but not truly representative of the people’s will.

“In Cameroon, elections have been commercialised in that they are becoming a game for the rich”, he lamented. “A poor man cannot do politics in Cameroon. There is so much buying of ballots.”

Ndi added that until the single ballot paper is introduced, there will never be free, fair and transparent elections.

In the council elections held alongside the parliamentary elections, Biya’s party won 305 of 360 councils. The newly-elected mayors and their deputies began work on 16 October, and Cameroon’s 180 parliamentarians will officially be sworn in on 29 October when the National Assembly is scheduled to open for its ninth legislative period.

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