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SDF, CDU Storm Out Against Electoral Code 

By Yerima Kini Nsom

CameroonPostline.com — The draft law on the harmonisation of the electoral code was adopted at the National Assembly on April 13 in the wake of protest by opposition MPs. MPs of the SDF Parliamentary Group and the Cameroon Democratic Union, CDU, stormed out of the hemicycle in protest, leaving the predominantly CPDM majority to adopt the bill in plenary sitting that spanned over 10 hours.

SDF MPs

The plenary that began at 9am that day was calm, until the rapporteur of the Constitutional Laws Committee, Hon. Haman Tchoutiou, finished reading the committee’s report. The Chief Whip of the SDF Parliamentary Group, Hon. Joseph Banadzem triggered the revolting salvo when dashed to the rostrum with a preliminary objection.

“The Social Democratic Front and Members of its Parliamentary Group received with joy the news that the President of the Republic has finally conceded to the adoption of an Electoral Code for Cameroon, especially as this news came almost simultaneously with that of producing a new electoral register,” Hon. Banadzem began. He then continued: “This political will as expressed by the Prime Minister during the consultations that ensued, gave us reason to believe that the said Electoral Code would be adopted on a consensual basis”.

He said, during the consultations, it became clear that, in order to incorporate into the code some vital elements that were the recommendations of the vast majority of Cameroonians, the preparations and adoption of the said Electoral Code necessarily had to be preceded by a slight modification of some provisions of the constitution, in order to advert the common arguments as to their “constitutionality”. 

“This has not been the case and the report as read to us presently has been very revealing. For instance, the amendments tabled in respect of the limitation of the presidential mandate to five years renewable once, a two-round presidential election, the creation of a single ballot paper, the establishment of voting age at 18 years and a redefinition of the electoral constituency, were all rejected as unconstitutional”.

The SDF MP chided government for giving a deaf ear to pertinent issues raised about the country’s electoral system. These included: the use of a biometric technology with the delivery of voters’ card immediately upon registration and in the whole process, the revamping of the ELECAM to render the Electoral Board truly independent and the abolition of presidential powers to arbitrarily create special constituencies.

The SDF group leader recalled that, in March 2008, “this house amended the 1996 constitution to permit Mr. Biya run again as President”. This house, he challenged, equally would have amended the constitution to enable a good electoral code to be adopted for Cameroon.

“A constitutional amendment so as to meet these challenges is imperative. The SDF submits that the present code be withdrawn so that we proceed first by a constitutional amendment that will enable the adoption of an electoral code that would guarantee free, fair and transparent elections”.

After this submission by the SDF, House Speaker Hon. Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, who chaired the deliberations, asked MPs to vote the preliminary objection. In the exercise, the parliamentary majority of the ruling CPDM party crushed the motion with 105 votes against 21 for the opposition. The MPs of the National Union for Democracy and Progress, NUDP, and Hon. Jean Jacques Ekindi of the Progressive Movement voted for the SDF motion.

In a sharp turn of events, Hon. Hermine-Patricia Tomaino Ndam Njoya, sprang to her feet and led CDU MPs to the floor in protest. She then threw off an unclipped copy of the draft electoral code, leaving the papers to fly to different directions of the house as CPDM MPs booed and jeered at her.

The House Speaker then cut in with a threat. “Madame,  that should be the last time you are doing that here”, he warned. But Hon. Hermine-Patricia Ndam Njoya did not budge. After throwing off the code, she led her colleagues out of the hall. Within a blink, members of the SDF Parliamentary Group were up, singing the National Anthem.

CPDM MPs banked the tables and shouted in a bid to drown the voices of their SDF counterparts. After singing the National Anthem, SDF MPs stormed out of the hemi-cycle, saying they will not be part of the adoption of a bill that will help to further stall the democratic process in Cameroon. The NUDP MP and MP Jean Jacques Ekindi of Mouvement Progressists, MP, stayed on and participated in the debates that led to the adoption of the bill.

Illiterate Electorate

According to the committee report presented at the plenary, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation rejected amendments for a single ballot paper, saying a majority of the Cameroonian electorate were illiterates who would not recognise the face they want from among many of them in a single ballot paper.

Rene Emmanuel Sadi also dismissed demands for a two-round election, as well as the single member constituency, saying they are unconstitutional. He said the biometric registration system will enable potential voters to get their cards within a period of 25 to 40 days.

Tight Security

Following talk that the civil society was planning to demonstrate in front of the National Assembly against the adoption of the bill, gun-totting policemen in combat gear, were dispatched all over the Ngoa-Ekelle where the law-making house is situated. Plain clothes security operatives were everywhere at the Glass House. Even National Assembly workers had difficulties entering the building. Gendarmes were busy turning away journalists and other visitors.

First published in The Post print edition no. 01336

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