Cameroon's parliament Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that will remove a two-term presidential limit and enable President Paul Biya to run for a third term in 2011. Fifteen lawmakers opposed to the constitutional change walked out of the National Assembly session Thursday and did not cast their votes. Mr. Biya has ruled the country for 25 years and his Cameroon People's Democratic Movement holds a huge majority in parliament.
Earlier Wednesday, the chairman of Cameroon's main opposition group, John Fru Ndi, criticized the bill, saying it gives Mr. Biya unlimited power.
Elvis Ngolle Ngolle is Cameroon’s minister for forestry and wildlife and one of the amendment’s supporters. He told VOA the vote was a classic exercise in Cameroon democracy.
“it was a classic democratic exercise, and at the end of the day 157 parliamentarians voted in favor of the constitutional amendment and five voted against and 12 parliamentarians opted democratically to walk out. And at the end of the day, the constitution and about six articles had been amended. It reflects the state of our democracy. And all the forces at play everyone had the chance to express themselves consciously and freely and the majority has carried the day,” he said.
Ngolle-Ngolle deflect criticism, particularly from Cameroon’s opposition leader John Fru Ndi that the amendment gives Biya unlimited powers.
“I think some people have had a twisted understanding or interpretation of the whole debate. No constitutional amendment that is serious in a democracy like ours or in democracy focuses on the person. If you look at any of the articles, I’m sure the article you are referring to is the article on the non-limitation of the presidential mandate, which is Article 62. That article, as I have said before, does not favor an individual. It favors any candidate,” Ngolle-Ngolle said.
He rejected the suggestion that the Cameroon parliament, by lifting presidential term limit was going contrary to the rest of Africa where there seems to be a movement to have term limits. Ngolle-Ngolle said President Paul Biya and the Cameroon parliament believe that amending the constitution was good for the country.
“By definition, constitutions are not made to limit the voters’ choices or to limit an individual’s choice to run for president. We know that democracy is premise on the will of the people. And at the end of the day if the will of the people say you should run for one term, for two terms, for five years for 10 years, for five years so be it. But if the people say that tomorrow you will not be power no matter whether there is limitation or no limitation, you will not be in power," Ngolle Ngolle said.