By Eugene Che
In the last few years, issues with the Cameroonian electoral code have gained media traction especially in the lead up to the elections in 2018 and 2020. There has been very little consensus with respect to the issues with the electoral code with some political actors blaming the current code for the challenges with the Cameroonian electoral system.
In most cases, apart from condemning the electoral code, the proponents of an electoral code review have failed to explicitly communicate to the public their issues with the electoral code. The recent meeting of several political parties in Yaoundé on the issue triggered my interest in the matter, and led me to undertake an in- depth and critical analysis of the electoral (from my layman’s perspective).
These are my personal observations with the electoral code.
The English version of the document is 83 page long, and is mostly written in clear language, with the exception of some conspicuous ambiguities, which I have discussed below.
While the current code is an improvement of previous laws governing elections in Cameroon, change is a constant and necessary phenomenon, and the democratic process in Cameroon will greatly improve if this, and the wider body of Cameroonian legislation are subject to periodic public debate and subsequent revision.
That way laws remain abreast with the changing context of time. My review is organised into the various sections of the electoral code, with my comments on each section beneath the theme of each section that caught my attention.
Section 45: Age of Electors
The electoral code stipulates the age of electors in Cameroon at 20 years. Cameroon is a predominantly youthful country with people under twenty forming a considerable proportion of the population. In most jurisdictions of the world, the age of adulthood is considered as the age of electors.
Disenfranchising young adults under 20 years, only suits the interests of the predominantly septuagenarian incumbent regime, whose members are well aware of the discrepancies between their interests and those of young adults.
Section 47: Disqualification of Felons and Bankrupt Persons
While the disqualification of convicts was once considered as justified, in recent decades most countries have rolled back these legislation and adopted more progressive electoral laws. It is important that a future electoral code explore the possibility of including felons.
It is also unreasonable to bar ex- convicts from the electoral process even after having served their sentence. With respect to bankrupt persons, there is no logical reason why a person’s financial status should be an impediment in the exercise of a democratic process.
Section 57: Members of the Local Polling Commission
The inclusion of representatives of the administration (appointed by the Divisional Officer) to the local polling commission compromises the independence of the polling commission, especially since elections are very often a verdict about the performance of the very same administration. Administrators are appointees of the state, and in a system where the state, incumbent party and government have become inseparable, it is difficult to imagine how such an member of the local polling commission can be independent and objective in the exercise of his mandated civic exercise.
Section 64: Members of the Divisional Supervisory Commission
The inclusion of representatives of the administration (appointed by the Senior Divisional Officer) to the divisional supervisory commission compromises the independence of the polling commission, especially since elections are very often a verdict about the performance of the very same administration.
Administrators are appointees of the state, and in a system where the state, incumbent party and government have become inseparable, it is difficult to imagine how such a member of the local polling commission can be independent and objective in the exercise of his mandated civic exercise.
Section 68/69: The Counting Commission
The inclusion of representatives of the administration (appointed by the Minister of Territorial Administration) to the counting commission compromises the independence of the polling commission, especially since elections are very often a verdict about the performance of the very same administration.
Administrators are appointees of the state, and in a system where the state, incumbent party and government have become inseparable, it is difficult to imagine how such an member of the local polling commission can be independent and objective in the exercise of his mandated civic exercise.
Furthermore, there is no reason for a counting commission in the first place since counting has already taken place at the polling station. Current electoral practices across the world suggest that instead of a central counting commission, a collation commission should be constituted to collate results declared at polling stations, without any power to alter such results.
In the absence of a provision that prohibits the counting/collation commission from altering results received from the polling stations, there will be no way to guarantee the integrity of the outcome.
The provisions of the electoral code do not make provision for the use of technology and the conditions under which technological applications can be used to ensure rapid collation.
In an era where modern technology and telephony has made result transmission, verification and collation easy, it is imperative that legislation guiding elections remain abreast with changes, in order to best enhance the democratic process.
There is no also no provision made on ensuring the integrity of the collation exercise, and to verify the results being entered into the collation forms against the polling station results. The absence of specific and explicit provisions in relation to this opens a window for actions that may undermine the process.
Section 86: Convening of Electors
The electoral code grants the Head of State the powers to convene electors by decree during an electoral year. In popular electoral practice, elections are exercises undertaken outside the scope of activities of the executive branch of government.
When the Head of State has the powers to convene electors, in effect, the incumbent has exaggerated powers of discretion over the electoral process. It is important to acknowledge that timing is a crucial factor that can determine electoral outcomes. This provision allows for delays and postponements of elections to the best possible time that suits the incumbent and grants it the best chances of victory.
In popular electoral practice in advanced presidential democracies, electoral dates are often fixed dates on the electoral calendar. This will guide the planning of pre-electoral activities and allow for parity among competitors without giving undue advantage to the incumbent over others.
Section 87: Electoral Campaign Period
The electoral code makes provision for a campaign periods of 15 days before the date of an election. This time frame is inadequately small to canvass through the national territory (475,000sq. km.) and gives the incumbent relative advantage over competitors since it has access to the machinery of government, which gives it a logistic edge over others in campaigns.
More so, prior to elections, members of the incumbent government in the exercise of their functions have the opportunity to communicate political messages and canvass support in ways that the opposition does not. In addition, in a country where political rallies are often scrutinised and/or disallowed, it will be unfair to restrict canvassing to just two weeks. A decent time frame of at least 90 days sounds reasonable.
Section 88: Ballot
Instead of the current candidate-specific ballot, a single ballot for election is preferable. Apart from being more economical on the purse of the taxpayer, the use of a single ballot enhances the integrity of the process and allows for the easy detection of over voting and other forms of electoral fraud.
Section 89/90: MANIFESTOES AND ELECTORAL MESSAGES
The electoral code requires that the electoral board vets electoral messages and manifestoes prior to communication to the electorate. While the reason behind this provision may be to prevent the incitement of violence, or the propagation of sectarian information, either of the religious or ethnic nature, it is unreasonable that such a provision is in the electoral code, especially since laws of libel, defamation and subversion already exist in the Cameroonian legal system.
Elections are the people’s only opportunity to make a verdict on the leadership of a country; as such, electoral messages should not be policed. Policing electoral messages makes open a window of opportunity for the electoral board to prevent the propagation of messages that do not augur well for the incumbent, especially since the incumbent regime appointed these same members of the electoral board. Issues of sectarianism, incitement of violence, subversion etc. have always been addressed by independent legislation and electoral communication should be no different.
Section 94: CAMPAIGN MEETING
This provision gives authorities the powers to cancel campaign rallies and/or meetings for public security reasons. This provision is a window of opportunity for the incumbent to marginalize the opposition. The burden of providing security and ensuring public safety should rest on the state.
Section 93 already requires that such meeting require prior notification of public security officials. It should therefore be up to public security officials to provide the requisite security details to both candidates and the public in relation to the circumstances and security demands, rather than prohibiting such meetings from taking place.
Section 100/104 (See Section 88 above): Ballot
The use of single ballots makes unnecessary the use of envelopes and reduces the cost of the process, while increasing its integrity and public confidence. It is important to acknowledge that since 1992, all electoral outcomes have come under scrutiny from political actors in Cameroon and abroad, and this has progressively eroded public confidence in elections in Cameroon as attested by the low turn outs in recent elections.
Section 110: COUNTING PROCESS
This provision provides that counting may not take place at the polling station for security issues. Counting should be done in the few view of the electorate at all times. It is the responsibility of the state to provide the needed security and increase public confidence in the process.
When counting is done elsewhere for whatever reason, the public’s confidence in the outcome can never be a guarantee, likewise the integrity of the process itself. In extreme circumstances when counting cannot take place, provisions should be made for representatives of each candidate to be present at a secured designated counting center, with a limited number of the electorate present as witnesses.
Section 111/112: Ballot Vetting and Sorting
Use of single ballot makes some steps of this process unnecessary and reduces overall time between voting and announcement of final verdict.
Section 116: Presidential Term
The electoral code stipulates that the candidates for presidency are elected for a seven-year term, and are eligible for elections. The absence of term limits and the very long term (seven years) are a conspicuous exaggeration that makes Cameroon stand out among electoral democracies and pseudo- democracies. A new electoral code should explore the reduction of the current presidential term, and the re-introduction of term limits. Both of which will enhance our democratic process.
Section 117: Age Requirement for Presidential Candidates
The electoral code states that candidates for presidential elections must be at least 35 years of age. This provision suggests that persons below the age are most likely incapable of handling the responsibilities in the high office due to inadequate experience, maturity or some other quality.
It is only logical that in such line of thought, the electoral code stipulates an upper age limit, beyond which a person will be considered to have lost physical strength, cognitive ability and any other quality required to should the responsibilities of the high office.
Section 121: Nomination of Candidates
The inclusion of Chiefs and traditional leaders as persons who can nominate a person for election is a worrying aspect of the electoral code. Traditional leaders should be politically neutral persons to allow them to exercise their functions as custodians of culture and tradition. In most post-colonial democracies, traditional leaders are ineligible for elections.
It is important for new provisions to be introduced to make traditional leadership and electoral office and/or politics incompatible. Being apolitical allows traditional leaders to remain rallying forces and not divisive characters.
Section 122: Filing of Candidature
No provision is made for asset declaration of candidates, which is a popular practice in modern democracy and helps in checking abuse of office and corruption.
Section 137: Results Declaration
The 15 day time frame for the declaration of results is an abnormal provision in the information age. Modern technology and telephony has increased the speed and security of information transmission. It is therefore unreasonable for this time frame to exceed four or five days.
Section 140: Oath of Office
The stipulation of a fixed date for assumption of duty and oath taking will enhance the democratic process and eliminate the possibility of postponements. The stipulation of fixed dates would suggest that after the expiry of a presidential term, even without the finalisation of an electoral process, the presidency should become vacant.
Section 142: Continuity in Demise/ Resignation
The ambiguity in this provision has to be addressed. Furthermore, provisions should be made to ensure continuity upon the death or resignation of the head of state without the need for any impromptu elections.
Section 145: Declaration of Vacancy
This provision grants the constitutional council the power to declare a vacancy of the presidential office, upon ascertainment by 2/3 of the council. The provision does not state how long the Head of State can be absent before a vacancy is declared, a window of opportunity for incumbents to abandon the duties for private undertakings, isolation or sojourns abroad. Furthermore, it is unreasonable that a vacancy, if any has to be ascertained by the constitutional council.
To enhance the democratic process, the absence of the Head of State for a continuous process of 60 days is enough for a declaration of vacancy.
Section 146: Resignation/ Death of Head of State
This provisions concerns with the conduct of elections after the demise of the Head of State. Elections are an expensive undertaking. In a low middle-income country like ours, there should be no need to hold impromptu elections if an incumbent head of state resigns or dies in office, prior to the end of his or her term. The electoral code should make provisions for continuity by a designated person, either the head of one the legislative chambers or the Prime minister, until the expiry of the term.
Section 149: Electoral Constituencies
The electoral code makes provision for single member and joint list electoral constituencies, where each division is an electoral constituency. The problem with this provision is that it allows for gerrymandering in the allocation of seats per constituency. To be fair, all constituencies for the parliament should be single seat constituencies with fixed geographical boundaries. In the absence of this, an incumbent may assign more seats to his or her electoral stronghold as opposed to others and be certain of electoral victory.
Section 150: Electoral Constituencies
This provision concerns with the number of electoral constituencies. There is need for a constituency determination formula that uses factors such as geographical coverage and population to determine electoral constituencies, and this exercise should be done by the electoral board and not the administration.
Section 151/152: Parliamentary Lists
Instead of voting for a parliamentary list in a proportional representation system, the electoral process can be enhanced when the electorate votes for specific candidates in their respective constituencies, independent of their lists. This will reduce the need for post electoral arbitration in parliamentary elections.
Section 155: By-Elections
The 12 month maximum duration for the conduct of a by-election in the event of a parliamentary vacancy is too long, and deprives a considerable amount of Cameroonians from representation for an unreasonably long period.
Section 164: Nomination of Parliamentary Candidates
The provision requires candidates to belong to a list of a political party and makes no room for independent candidates to participate in elections. Provisions such as this are responsible for the proliferation of political parties in the country. Allowing independent candidates provides an opportunity for the injection of non-partisan perspectives and objectivity into the political landscape.
Section 168: Results and Disputes in Parliamentary Elections
The time period allowed for the declaration of results (20 days) is too long and does not reflect the current context in which modern technology and communication tools has made results transmission, verification and collation less cumbersome.
Also, the provision makes reference to Section 132 to 136 for the resolution of disputes in parliamentary elections, which tend to focus more on the presidential elections context rather than with parliamentary election disputes. There is a need for specific provisions to address parliamentary election disputes.
Section 181: Nomination of Municipal Election Candidates
The provision requires candidates to belong to a list of a political party and makes no room for a list of independent candidates to participate in elections. Allowing independent candidates provides an opportunity for the injection of non-partisan perspectives and objectivity into the political landscape and this is particularly important at local level.
Section 213: Referenda
In the declaration and adoption of referendum results, no provision is made to factor turn out in the validation of the outcome and its subsequent adoption. Non-participation in referenda has long been considered as being a rejection of the theme of a referendum. As such most democracies have stipulated thresholds for electorate participation, below which results of referendum are null and void.
Section 214: Senatorial Elections
The provision allows the Head of State to appoint three senators out of ten per region. In effect, thirty out of hundred senators are appointed by the Head of State. Being the upper arm of parliament, with significant powers to make legislation and veto the decisions of the lower house, it will be unreasonable to call it democratic practice if some of the members of this body are not elected. Furthermore, the legislative body is supposed to be an arm of government that checks the other branches (executive and judiciary). Therefore, having 30% of this body appointed by the executive compromise both the principle of separation of powers and the concept of independence of the legislative.
In effect, it allows the executive to have exaggerated powers over the legislative process, and the power to undermine the will of the people. Furthermore, the remaining seventy senators are not elected by universal suffrage but by indirect suffrage, which further questions the entire senatorial electoral process.
Section 217: Senatorial Constituencies
This provision allows the administration the discretion of deciding senatorial constituencies. The integrity and independence of the electoral process will be greatly enhanced by the implementation of fixed single member senatorial constituencies.
Section 266: Electoral Disputes
This provision states that in regional council elections, in the event of a tie, the eldest candidate wins for single member constituencies, while the list with the
highest average age wins in the case of a list system constituency. Using age as a factor in deciding electoral disputes is quite unreasonable in my opinion.
These are my personal opinions, and not the position of any group or political party. I however will forward this to the election organizing authorities (ELECAM), political parties and civil society to contribute to the political discourse.
I am convinced that the adoption of some of these suggestions will enhance the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the on-going debate on electoral reform, I remain committed to course of democratic consolidation in Cameroon.
God bless our homeland, and make this nation forever great and strong! Yaounde, 07/04/2021
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