-Prof T.Asonganyi on the Twin Elections and the Political Climate in Cameroon
By Ajong Mbapndah L
He may be out of partisan politics but Prof Tazoacha Asonganyi remains one of the most articulate voices of reason in Cameroon. The former Secretary General of the Social Democratic Front-SDF has continued to offer insightful reading into political developments with luminary proposals on alternative paths to the change that has eluded Cameroonians for decades. As the country is caught in the frenzy of another ill prepared elections with predictable results, Prof Asonganyi opines that though the opposition has lost so much credibility, the elections are a choice between bad and worse and if the electoral system had a modicum of credibility, Cameroonians will prefer the opposition which is bad to the regime that has fared worse. With the unpredictability of President Biya’s mind and the weakness of Institutions to withstand any unforeseen shocks, there is every reason to be nervous says Prof Asonganyi.
Prof Asonganyi, President Biya recently announced Legislative and Municipal elections on June 30 to be held on September 30 and the decision seems to have taken people both in the ruling party and the opposition by surprise, why so considering that mandate of the present officials had long expired?
Yes, the mandate of Parliament and Councils had since expired. You know the twin Legislative and municipal elections that brought in the outgoing parliamentarians and councilors was held on July 22, 2007. Their 5-year mandate was supposed to expire in 2012, but it was extended twice to have them stay beyond the mandate up to mid 2013. Law No. 91/20 0f 16 December 1991 to lay down conditions governing the election of Members of Parliament, provided that a substantive candidate and the alternate would both pay a caution of 50.000 FCFA into the state treasury for their candidature. Law No. 2006-9 of 29 December 2006 modifies this amount to 500.000 FCFA. Parliament amended this to 3.000.000 FCFA in the bill of the Electoral Code that was debated and voted in March 2012 but I think before the bill was signed into law, it was modified to 1.000.000 FCFA (for candidate and alternate together). In general, it is usually the substantive candidate that coughed out this amount. The opposition and the grassroots of the CPDM have been complaining that this amount was too high. Therefore, people were caught unprepared to cough out this huge sum. I think it was more a feeling of financial unpreparedness than surprise.
Elections over the years have suffered from persistent flaws, with the computerization of voters’ registration any remote prospects of fairness and transparency in the September 30th elections?
You know the biometric system of registration of voters which was instituted is good but it is very delicate. It is only as good as you want it to be. The standard approach for setting up a credible electoral roll using the biometric system is that the first phase of general registration of voters in the field provides what would be called a “raw” – preliminary – list of voters. Following the first phase, the “raw” list is published in the various areas for verification and corrections. This second phase provides a “raw” corrected electoral roll. The “raw corrected” roll is then screened centrally with multi-biometric identification technology containing a matching server to automatically detect and delete multiple registration to clean up the register. It is this cleaned up register that constitutes a national electoral register that can be used for free, fair and credible elections. Indeed, it is this last phase that should tell us how many eligible voters have been actually registered by ELECAM using the biometric voter registration system. Unfortunately, the ELECAM chair is still talking about the 5.5 million voters that were registered in the raw, preliminary list of voters. This means that there has been no screening to remove double and multiple names entered in the roll. It is known that some people registered at their places of residence, and then went to their villages and registered again; or some people registered in their places of residence more than once.
The general expectation was that some 8 to 9 million voters would be registered. Since ELECAM could come up with a figure of only 5.5 million they must be shy of carrying out an editing process that would reduce the numbers even further. So it is now clear that ELECAM did not edit the raw list. The ELECAM chair is telling the press that “there are spelling errors in some card…..but these will not debar anyone from voting…” This is also an indication that the raw register was never sent to the field for corrections.
I kept reminding ELECAM during the registration phase that those with entrenched interests – the spoilers who made nonsense of past electoral registers: political thugs-cum-bandits-cum-party bigwigs – were still active in the field to re-enact their fraud exploits. They obviously succeeded. Therefore I do not think that as far as the electoral roll is concerned, much has changed: there are still multiple entries for some voters.
There are reports that only about five million voters were registered, and should the distribution of voters cards be mired with the deliberate cacophony we know, it means the number which actually votes may even be lower, what kind of legitimacy will those “elected” have?
Yes, as we have just said, there were some 5.5 million names in the raw list brought from the field. The standard practice for biometric registration is that a voter is issued a voter’s card upon registration. Since the raw list is usually edited as we have indicated above, those who registered more than once would not find their names in the final electoral roll; the cards they carry would therefore not permit them to vote. The responsibility for not voting would be theirs since they committed the crime of registering more than once. In the situation as it is now, unfortunately the receipts that were issued when people were registered did not show their polling stations where they will cast their votes; where they would have gone and collected their cards on polling day, if they did not find it now. So the distribution process will still be mired with the cacophony that has mired past processes. Those that win will enjoy only the type of legitimacy that others in the past enjoyed.
Looking at the bigger picture, just like the Senatorial elections, some analysts see the September 30th elections in the context of a post Biya era with the decision of the CPDM leader to shun primaries a sign that he wants to maintain absolute control in the transition process, what is your reading of the political situation?
Yes. The CPDM seems to prefer people they know – incumbents that actively supported the amendment of Article 6 (2) which provided that the president shall be elected for a term of office of 7 years; he shall be eligible for re-election once. The amendment allowed Paul Biya to stay beyond two seven-year terms. Those people who helped him to obtain the amendment need to be maintained as compensation for such positive contribution to the regime, without any consideration for any other candidate sent forward by the grassroots. If the incumbents succeed to send a list to the Central Committee, however they come by it, they are assured of being selected over more popular candidates from the grassroots. These people the regime knows better are the preferred persons to have around during this end-of-reign period.
I wonder what criteria was used, but there is disenchantment from people on the way the parliamentary seats were distributed across the country, it is curious to see that it is CPDM militants like Ateba Eyene voicing out frustration at the arbitrary distribution of seats and not the opposition what is going on?
Well, Ateba Yene is a different kind of CPDM militant. You know the last population census in Cameroon was in 2005 but the results were only published in 2010, after some five years of manipulation of the figures. Indeed, the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks recently provided evidence that such manipulation took place to inflate population figures in places that support Paul Biya, or places that Paul Biya can easily manipulate and control. It is such manipulated figures that guided his creation of “special” constituencies in preparation for the September 30 twin elections. There is no reason why Tiko and Muyuka together should have one seat while there are two seats in Buea. There is no reason why a place like Lebialem, expected to have at least two seats should have only one while small areas in the South and other regions have multiple seats. The population distribution per seat in the country varies considerably, from an average per region of some 70.000/seat to over 100.000/seat. Incumbents usually gerrymander for personal political reasons; however, it is usually not as fragrant as the one we are witnessing in Cameroon. As for the opposition speaking up, the opposition has changed a lot over the last few years. It is usually said that those who have food in their mouths do not speak.
Looking at the opposition the way it is at the moment, can it win if the elections were free and fair, we wish the CPDM and its leader could take the risk and for once try free and fair elections, will the opposition fare any better in such a scenario today?
You know the overwhelming majority of Cameroonians would like to have a regime change in Cameroon. The present regime has lasted too long, and has very little to show for its longevity. So, most Cameroonians would vote against it if they had the opportunity to do so. The opposition has lost a lot of credibility but it is a choice between the bad and the worst. The devil we know is so bad that most Cameroonians will prefer the devil they do not know. So, yes, the opposition will fare better in such a scenario.
Is there anything that the opposition can do to register better results; one understands the level of mistrust but may mergers, zoning, or rallying behind specific parties based on strength in particular areas?
No, all that is impossible. It can occur in limited areas where a party’s list is rejected or the party did not have a list and therefore decided to support another opposition party. Otherwise, the parties have become like a source of self-enrichment for the leaders and they would hardly let their source of enrichment go! They want to remain the alpha and omega of their parties so mergers, zoning, rallying behind other parties is out! The reason why the parties have failed to field a single candidate to face Paul Biya since the experience of 1992 is because the parties have become a wealth-generating machine for the leaders.
One of the things that stood out during the Senatorial circus was President Biya’s obsession with older folks; a CPDM cadre blamed this on the inability of the younger generation to make use of their numerical strength, what is your advice to them and to others across Cameroon who will vote on Sept 30?
The youth want to have a say through primaries but they are refused that option. The youths usually want to see their decisions through from start to finish. When they are excluded from the start, they are demobilized. There was a national youth forum that was formed, that we all thought would become a voice for the youths, but it looks like the whole idea was hijacked by politicians and it fell apart. Otherwise, that is the type of structure that the youth can use to flex their muscles. It is from such structures that they can articulate the politics of youths across parties, and mobilize to make their voice heard at elections. Without such collective mobilization with clear aims and objectives, I doubt that there is much that one can advise the youth to do on September 30 that can have any serious impact.
Sometimes people think the generational shift that is needed pertains only to the CPDM and the ruling elite, should it not also be the case within the ranks of the opposition parties especially the leading ones like the SDF,CDU,UNDP ,etc?
Of course it is a problem across all parties. The parties are structures that serve the personal interests of the entrenched leadership of each party. That is why the same faces are still there since 1990, tending what has slowly become their source of nourishment. To succeed, the generational shift may pass through the creation of different centres of power, rather than depending on what individuals consider as their “thing.” This requires mobilization by people of vision that put general interest first. Such people definitely exist in the country, and need to rise to the challenge.
Last question Prof, as the country moves forward, what should make us nervous and what should make us hopeful?
What makes us nervous is that we do not know what is in Paul Biya’s mind, and the institutions we have are too weak to resist any unforeseen shocks. So we are nervous about what the future holds for us as far as Cameroon-after-Biya (or Cameroon-without-Biya) is concerned. What should make us hopeful? I think the fact that Cameroon has continued to stand on its feet in spite of the several errors of commission and omission, the several misdeeds of the present regime, over a period of over 30 year…
Thanks very much for granting this interview.
It has been a great pleasure. Thank you very much too.