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Last Updated: 05/02/2006Cameroon: Democracy at a Crossroads
Mbapndah Ajong Laurean
To those who thought that the October 11, 2004 presidential elections in Cameroon were an opportunity to show the rest of the world that significant progress had been made in the democratization process, the deception was simply enormous. For those who bothered to register and were fortunate to have cards, the whole exercise was simply not worth the trouble. As predicted by many, the incumbent Paul Biya - in power since 1982 and backed by the entire state apparatus - emerged victorious with a very large majority.
With a population estimated at about 15 million, it was expected that at least about eight million ought to be of voting age, yet Cameroon could only muster 4.6 million voters, with 3.8 million of those actually casting ballots. Among the various reasons advanced for the low turnout in the face of efforts by public authorities and political parties to get people to register, the most plausible explanation remains a total loss of faith and trust in the electoral system by most Cameroonians. Since Cameroon embarked on its multi-party adventure at the dawn of the 90s, it can boast of hardly any elections which have met internationally or universally acceptable standards.
While militants of the ruling party were celebrating their victory, the opposition, independent personalities and leading moral voices in the country were lamenting the terrible blow suffered by the democratization process. Many opine firmly that it was a total set back for democracy in Cameroon. Observer missions with a sense of dignity and credibility admitted agreed with the opposition that the registration process was flawed and there was massive disenfranchisement.
Incredibly, the victorious candidate made just three political outings to canvass for votes. President Biya was so confident of his re-election that he began actively campaigning only at the tail end of the race, and he visited just three towns in three Provinces. Then, in this country with its unreliable transportation and telecommunications network, the key actor in the elections, the Minister of Territorial Administration, was somehow able to start announcing results in favour of his own ruling party in barely hours after the close of the polls.