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President Biya Has No Right To Shorten, Prolong His Mandate – Mbah Ndam 

The 3rd Vice President of the National Assembly, Hon. Joseph Mbah Ndam Njang, says the Constitution does not give power to an incumbent President to either abridge or prolong his mandate. He made the averment in an exclusive interview with The Post in Yaounde March 16. The MP cum lawyer dismissed the current upsurge of calls on the President to organise an early presidential election and be candidate as a cheap means by CPDM hypocrites and sycophants to curry favours from him.
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The Post: There have been widespread speculations about a Constitutional amendment; what is your take on that?

Hon. Mbah Ndam: Well, people have kept on talking about it, there is a lot of rumour in the air and I don’t understand what will warrant the kind of Constitutional amendment that is being talked about today. I hear some say they want to shorten the mandate of the President of the Republic to a five-year term; some say he would be eligible once and so on. Such amendments would take effect only in the future, that is, only after the present mandate must have been finished in 2018. The amendments can only make sense at that time, because, the incumbent President cannot decide to either abridge or prolong his mandate. The laws in Cameroon and our present Constitution do not permit that.

What provision of the law stops him from doing that?

Our Constitution rather vests the incumbent President with all the powers and gives him full legitimacy from the moment he is elected. He has powers to declare a state of emergency; he has powers to declare even a state of siege if the territorial integrity of the nation is threatened. He suffers from no illegitimacy in such a situation. So, his legitimacy is never put in question. He has been elected for seven years. He can dissolve Parliament, he can prolong the mandate of Parliament, but he cannot shorten or elongate his own mandate and he has no reason to do that.

Would you say that those who are calling for early election are doing so out of ignorance of these laws?

Both. There are very few people who are ignorant and the intelligentsia who are hypocrites. They do what they don’t believe in and they know it is not right. First, the Constitution does not provide for early presidential election. Secondly, by the Constitution of the CPDM party, the Chairman of that party is automatically the Presidential candidate. So, even if the election were to take place tomorrow, there is a candidate for the CPDM. So, why call on him again to run? I have said these hypocrites who are calling on the President to run are people who have skeletons in their cupboards. A good number of them are those who are managing State affairs, members of Government and Managers of State Corporations. They know the crimes they have committed against the State. They are frightened and hunted by what they know they have in their cupboards and they want to twist the arm of the President of the Republic to do that which cannot be done.

Another issue mooted in the speculations is the institution of the post of the Vice President. Does the Constitution provide for such an amendment?

You know that when we decided to change from the Federal Republic to the Unitary State, we had to go through a referendum. The question of Vice President in the form of Government we have now is a fundamental issue that the authorities need to consult the sovereign people of Cameroon, tell them you want to scrap off the post of Prime Minister; you now want to create a presidential system that is American. If that were to happen, they will need to go through a referendum. I say this because the 1996 Constitution was born out of the Tripartite meeting that virtually substituted the National Sovereign Conference that was being called for by the opposition parties and it is from that Tripartite that the committee in charge of revising the Constitution was put in place. It was not just a short way into Parliament that it was made. The kinds of reforms they are talking now are reforms that take time and are for the future, they cannot be retrospective. To shorten the present mandate will mean that you legislate laws that are retrospective.That, to my mind, is not possible and those who are calling for it know that it is not feasible, but they want to twist the arm of the President to do what is not feasible.

Critics describe your Parliament as rubberstamp that is virtually at the beck and call of the executive. If you were a powerful and independent Parliament, would you have the powers to abridge or prolong the mandate of the Head of State in the circumstances?

We are a rubberstamp Parliament because we have an obese majority and that kind of majority bows to the dictates of the executive. So, if any kind of nonsense were to come through, I will not be surprised that they will bow to it. But if we were a powerful and independent Parliament, we will not vote some of the things we have already voted here. We would not have accepted the Constitutional amendment concerning the limitation of mandate of an incumbent President in 2008. It is unfortunate for Cameroon because it violated international instruments like the AU Charter on Good Governance. So, if we were a powerful Parliament we will not do those things.

You are talking so much against the President abridging his term; what is the guarantee that a Parliament that is at his beck and call will not do this for him?

There is some bit of legality in President Biya. I have keenly observed him about that. He is the one person that must find legal justification in order to do such a thing. This time around he does not have. You will remember that when he wanted to abrogate that provision that limited his term, he made sure that it was towards the end of the term that he amended it. The Presidential mandate was already ending or moving into new elections. But we are three years to the elections and people start talking about things that he should amend now and wait for three years in order to apply them. What would prompt him to do such a thing? What would prompt him in any case to shorten his own mandate and call early Presidential election? I have told you the powers he wields. What has affected those powers? What has affected his legitimacy? So, that’s why I say those who are calling on him are sycophants and they think, by so doing, they will earn some favours from him.

What are you expecting as far as the amendment of the Electoral Code is concerned?

If it is the Electoral Code, we have so many things to be amended in it. Remember we have a pending private members’ bill on the question of the single ballot paper. Remember we have always said the majority of our population is made up of the youth from the age of 18. So, quite a chunk of the population is disenfranchised because the voting age now is 20 years. If members of our society that are 18 are not given the opportunity to take part in the decision making, in voting their own leaders, then, it is a terrible thing. So, we expect that, if those were the kind of amendments to be brought to Parliament, they will be quite in order because that will mean amending the Electoral Code which is good. There are many aspects of it we can touch if they were meaningful, those would have been the good things that the CPDM militants would come out calling on President Biya to institute in the country, but they are not doing that, they are doing something else.

There is intriguing jurisprudence about the calls. In 2008, late Franҫoise Foning started the calls for Constitutional amendments and it soon became a reality. Despite all the legal explanations you have given, do you think these calls will come to naught?

I think that the calls are not timely because we are still three years to go with the President’s mandate. I think President Biya enjoys some degree in terms of respect of the Constitution. I remember that in 1990, when the SDF had broken the ground, and multiparty politics and democracy were being clamoured for, these very sycophants of the CPDM jumped into the streets and started marching against democracy and multiparty politics, condemning it as imported political models that Cameroon did not need. I hope you remember how Moslems even marched into the Cathedral in Yaounde to pray against the institution of democracy and multiparty politics. President Biya came out and told them to prepare for political competition. So, democracy and multiparty politics were ushered in. I remember that when we had a very honoured guest in this country last year, President François Hollande of France, you journalists put the question to Biya concerning elections. He said elections were certain, but they were faraway. So, for these agitators of his party to start calling for early Presidential election and urging him to stand as candidate is a thing that does not conform to any rules of international constitutionalism. I don’t think that we will create such a negative precedence in the world.

Interviewed By Yerima Kini NsomHon. Joseph Mbah Ndam

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