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Cameroon Human Rights Group Criticizes Weak Opposition Participation in Recent Vote

  • Peter Clottey

Cameroon's President Paul Biya departing meeting at Elysee Palace, Paris, Jan. 30, 2013.

Cameroon's President Paul Biya departing meeting at Elysee Palace, Paris, Jan. 30, 2013.

The Chairman of Cameroon’s National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom (NCHRF) has expressed disappointment at the low level of participation by opposition parties in the September 30 parliamentary and local elections.

“There was an absence of the opposition in over two thirds of the areas covered by legislative elections, which means that right from the beginning, it was clear that the ruling party was going to form the next government,” said chairman NCHRF Divine Chemuta Mbanda. “The commission would like to see the opposition organize and position itself better in future to be able to provide an alternative.”

Mbanda however said the country’s electoral commission (ELECAM) showed improvements in the administration of the vote. The NCHRF released its report after its poll observer group ended its work.

“Compared with previous elections; with the setting up of ELECAM and with the introduction of biometrics for the registration a lot of progress has been made,” said Mbanda. “We were able to point out where we expressed our satisfaction where a lot of progress has been made, and we also indicated areas where improvement or more effort needs to be made.”

The NCHRF’s participation in the elections, Mbanda said, was meant to instill confidence in the country’s democratic process.

The NCHRF together with other international poll observers monitored the elections which were overwhelming won by President Paul Biya’s ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM).

The CPDM won 148 of the 180 seats in parliament while the opposition parties took the 32 remaining seats. Both local and international poll observers said the process was peaceful and credible.

They added that an improvement in the administration of the poll could be an example to other African countries interested in improving organization and transparency, said Mbanda.

He outlined his organization’s recommendations to the electoral body for improving the credibility of future elections.

“Foremost, we recommended that ELECAM strive towards ensuring that the biometrics is complete,” said Mbanda. “Because they used the biometrics only for [voter] registration. [But] we indicated that it would be desirable to include the voting and the vote counting modules because they are available in the market place. It will certainly facilitate and further improve upon the conduct of elections in Cameroon.”

Some political analysts were concerned about possible violence in the run up to the poll amid opposition charges of potential rigging by the ruling party. But, Mbanda says the NCHRF embarked on a nationwide campaign to educate voters about the need to ensure peace during and after the vote.

“[Cameroonians] demonstrated some maturity, and it is not surprising to me because of the programs that we’ve put in place for over five years now. We’ve been educating people [and] we’ve made a lot of progress with the national program for the teaching of human rights at all the [school] levels; the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. And so people are quite aware of their rights and seek to protect them,” said Mbanda.