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Scheduling Local Elections In War-time Sparks Controversy

By Kesah Princely and Regis Che

Opposition political parties in Cameroon have begun reacting differently to government’s decision to organize municipal and legislative elections in early 2020. In a communique released by the country’s leader, Paul Biya who recently clocked 37 years in power, the elections will be held all over the national territory on February 9, 2020.

Despite calls from some opposition parties such as the Cameroon People’s Party, CPP, that an ongoing deadly conflict in Cameroon’s two minority English-speaking regions be resolved before convening the elections, the octogenarian Biya went ahead to schedule them.

How election controversy is felt among opposition political parties

While the CPP and Popular Action Party, PAP, stand that elections should not be held when part of the country (Anglophone regions) is being hit by a war President Paul Biya declared two years ago, the Social Democratic Front, SDF, and Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, are rather prepared to challenge the ruling CPDM party in next year’s elections.

Why the SDF Party flipped

Prior to the scheduling of these elections, Cameroon’s main opposition party, SDF, warned against organising them without resolving the Anglophone crisis first. It also resolved to boycott parliamentary sessions.

During a national executive committee meeting that brought together mayors and parliamentarians of the opposition SDF party of National Chairman, Ni John Fru Ndi on Saturday November 9, the party’s Communication Secretary, Paul Nji Ntumassang told the media that holding elections in the heart of the deteriorating armed conflict in the North West and South West regions was of no essence. He claimed that the country’s election governing body, ELECAM and other administrative offices in the crisis ravaged part of the country have all shutdown owing to the ongoing conflict.

But, barely four days after, the party changed its stance. It now says it is ready to take part in the February 2020 elections, and its parliamentarians will return to parliament.

 “… SDF has been privy that government is to deposit some important bills at the national assembly that are to the interest of the people. Thus we have to be there to deliberate,“ Denis Nkemlemo, one of the party’s Communication Secretaries told Mimi Mefo Info.

The rift in the CPP Party

The Cameroon People’s Party, CPP, has lampooned the Head of State for announcing elections when the country is in chaos. According to the party’s leader, Edith Kabang Wallah, the current regime has failed Cameroonians in all spheres of life for nearly 40 years.

The firebrand female opposition leader argued that there should be no election without a meaningful dialogue to: “resolve the Anglophone problem, redefine the nature of the Cameroonian State, and redefine the form of the Cameroonian State.”

To her, institutions such as ELECAM and the Constitutional Council need to be reformed before any election.

“After 37 years, we say NO! We will no longer accompany this president [Paul Biya]. We will also not sit and fold our hands. We will shout NO; in the media, on social media and by any means available,” she added.

However, the CPP is divided. A camp led by its supposed Founder and Chairman, Rev. Prof. Samuel Tita Fon says it will go in for the elections in February. He has called on Cameroonians to ignore Kahbang Walla’s faction of the party which is against elections. It remains unclearunclear how the CPP will face the elections.

Why the CRM wants the local elections

Militants of the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM party of Professor Maurice Kamto who was recently released from prison for organizing protests against the regime in power, say they are ready to contest in next year’s municipal and parliamentary elections.

Despite fighting a lost political battle against President Paul Biya’s government, Professor Maurice Kamto and his supporters who claim their victory was stolen during last year’s presidential election have resolved to forget the past and face their opponent in the 2020 twin elections.

In an exclusive interview with the party’s Secretary General, Barrister Christopher Ndong told EboniGram that the party will canvass for seats in all 360 municipalities across Cameroon.

The human rights lawyer claimed that the only way to resolve the problems plaguing the nation is not by boycotting elections, but, by actively participating in order to kick out the 37 year-old regime which he said has failed the country since it took over power from the country’s pioneer president, Ahmadou Ahidjo in 1982.

The CRM is confident their “victory cannot be stolen’’ in the upcoming elections given that votes will be counted directly by election officials in the various polling stations.

“The elections inolve everyone at the local level, so they will be able to supervise properly, defend properly and make sure the results reflect the polling, the results come out on the spot and Yaounde [ELECAM’s Headquarters] only declares what comes from the polls,’’ he stated.  

The CRM’s chief scribe told EboniGram that since the Biya regime has hitherto rejected all their proposals to engage in sincere talks that will deescalate the tension in the country’s Anglophone regions, they are poised to have a majority in parliament so that they can reconcile the country.

“We have the people of the North West and South West at heart and we believe we can solve the conflict,” the legal mind emphasized.

The ruling party’s response

Members of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, say they are ready to win the most seats in parliament, and get a majority of  municipal offices during the elections in early 2020. This party has always won a large number of seats during local elections and it remains unclear whether the situation will be the same this time around.

Can there be any hitch-free elections in Anglophone Cameroon?

The prevailing atmosphere in Anglophone Cameroon has made many a person to wonder if any election can be held unperturbed. For three years now, hostilities between the Cameroonian army and non-state actors fighting for a breakaway Republic they call Ambazonia have heightened across the two Anglophone regions of the CEMAC member state.

In 2018, President Paul Biya deferred local elections that were due to be held that year. Many suggested the postponement was mainly as a result of the deadly armed conflict that has been a threat to the country’s unity. From September 30 to October 04, 2019, the Head of State organized a major national dialogue to restore peace and rebuild the two war ravaged regions.

38 days after the holding of the said reconciliatory dialogue which received heavy criticisms, clashes have intensified between the belligerent parties, economic and academic activities have remained grounded. According to a recent report from UNICEF, about 855000 children lack access to education due to the deteriorating crisis.

It remains uncertain how the government intends to organize the February 9 2020 elections given the high rate of insecurity in the regions. The head of ELECAM on state media insisted that elections will be held in the two turbulent regions.

Separatist fighters have said citizens of what they claim to be their territory – Ambazonia – will not take part in any election organized by people they have qualified as their colonizers – the regime of President Biya.

What about the Special Status?

90 days to the holding of the municipal and legislative elections, it is difficult to predict how credible the voting process will be in the dreaded zones as the death toll augments.

Will a “Special Status” avert the status quo and set the stage for elections in Anglophone Cameroon?

President Paul Biya on Tuesday November 12 revealed that he was working towards the acceleration of a decentralized system of government through the implementation of a special status in the troubled North West and South West regions of Cameroon.

The special status was the brainchild of a four-day-long Major National Dialogue that was held in the country’s capital, Yaounde.

He made the pronouncement during a two-day peace conference convened by French President, Emmanuel Macron in Paris-France.

Anti-Biya critics have chided him for announcing the implementation of the special status in a foreign country, instead of his own country where those affected by the crisis are based.

It is not clear if separatist fighters will accept Biya’s special status offer given that they are longing for a breakaway republic – Ambazonia.

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