Cameroon - Political Parties
The country had 298 registered political parties. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service. The president appoints all ministers, including the prime minister, and also directly appoints the governors of each of the 10 regions, who generally represent CPDM interests in the regions. The president has the power to appoint important lower-level members of the 58 regional administrative structures as well. The government pays the salaries of (primarily nonelected) traditional leaders, which creates a system of patronage.
The two major political parties, President Ahidjo's Cameroonian Union (UC) in East Cameroon and the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) in the West, controlled their respective state assemblies and delegations in the Federal National Assembly upon reunification in October 1961. In April 1962 they joined to form one parliamentary group in support of the government and in the interest of national unity. Opposition parties continued to exist, although they were not represented in the Federal National Assembly.
President Ahidjo long maintained that a single "unified party" was necessary to create national unity out of tribal diversity and to achieve the development of the country, and he maintained that democracy could be preserved within the single party. The leading opposition party in East Cameroon supported the President in the 1965 elections, and the opposition party in the West joined the KNDP in the state government in August 1965. The President's objective was realized on September 1, 1966, when three West Cameroonian political parties and the UC were dissolved and a single new party — the Cameroon National Union (UNC) - was formed. On September 8, 1966, two of the three small East Cameroonian parties also joined the new UNC.
Cameroon was a one-party state, with the Union Nationale Camerounaise (UNC), in control. In November 1982 Ahidjo resigned from the presidency and named Paul Biya as his successor. Biya was elected chairman of the UNC and in January 1984 he was re-elected as President reportedly obtaining 99.98 percent of the votes cast.
Opposition to the Biya regime increased after a failed coup attempt in 1984, and his critics called for more substantive democratic reform. In 1985 the UNC changed its name to the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) or Rassemblement Démocratique du peuple Camerounais (RDPC). Following an increasing amount of civil unrest, the National Assembly approved a further amendment to the Constitution on 5 December 1990, which ended single-party rule and provided for a multi-party system. The Legislative and Presidential elections were held in October and November 1992 respectively. The CPDM secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly by forming an alliance with the Movement for the Defence of the Republic (Mouvement pour la Défense de la République, MDR). Biya again won the presidency but the result was tainted by widespread charges of fraud, and violent protests followed.
Legislative elections were contested on 17 May 1997 by 46 political parties and were monitored by a Commonwealth observer mission. The Presidential elections followed on 12 October 1997. However, the three major opposition political parties, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (National Union for Democracy and Progress, UNDP) and the UDC, declared a boycott of all elections, in protest at the absence of an independent electoral commission. A fourth opposition political party, the Union du peuple Africain, (UPA) later joined the boycott. Biya easily won.
The Social Democratic Front [SDF] is the leading opposition political party in Cameroon and membership is not illegal. Nonetheless, individuals in the north west and south west regions of Cameroon, as a result of their tendency to support the SDF, suffered disproportionately from human rights abuses committed by the government and its security forces. It draws most of its support from the predominantly anglophone South-West Province and North-West Province. The government has invariably accused the SDF of being separatist, like the SCNC. As a result, many members of the SDF have been arrested and detained after being accused of supporting secession for the two provinces. A January 2009 report on Cameroon by Amnesty International states that many SDF members have been arrested and detained after being accused of supporting secession. However, the report also states that “although government suspicions against the SDF have persisted, there have been far fewer detentions of its members in recent years”.
The political space has opened somewhat in Cameroon with the new century. By 2008 there were eight parties in the country's unicameral parliament; the media was relatively free; the protection of human rights gradually improved, including the passage of a landmark Criminal Procedure Code in 2007; Cameroon is welcoming to refugees; civil society was slowly gaining a greater voice. Nonetheless, Cameroon's democratic institutions remained very weak. Political power was highly centralized, with Presidentially-appointed Governors of the ten provinces and Presidentially-appointed mayors of major cities. The ruling Cameroon Democratic People's Party (CPDM) had 153 of the 180 seats in parliament. The judiciary lacked independence and there remained serious human rights concerns.
Each of Cameroon's national elections has been marred by severe irregularities. In December 2000, the National Assembly passed legislation creating the National Elections Observatory (NEO), an election watchdog body. NEO played an active role in supervising the conduct of local and legislative elections in June 2002 and July 2007, which demonstrated some progress but were still hampered by irregularities. The NEO also supervised the conduct of the presidential election in October 2004, as did many diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy. The incumbent, Paul Biya, was re-elected with 72% of the vote. NEO reported that it was satisfied with the conduct of the election but noted some irregularities and problems with voter registration. The U.S. Embassy also noted these issues with the election, as well as reports of non-indelible ink, but concluded that the irregularities were not severe enough to impact the final result. The U.S. Embassy provided monitors for the July 2007 parliamentary and municipal elections and concurred with the analysis of other observers and diplomatic missions, who noted some improvements but persistent flaws, especially in the registration of voters and the prevention of voter fraud.
In December 2006, the President enacted the law creating Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), an independent body in principle that is responsible for the organization, management, and supervision of all election operations and referendums. In December 2008, Biya appointed 12 members to the ELECAM Council, 10 of whom were from the President’s CPDM party. This weakened public confidence in the commission that lingered even beyond the President’s 2011 appointment of six additional members from civil society. In 2010 and 2011, the National Assembly amended legislation in order to allow overseas voting and to permit political parties to play a more significant role in the electoral process, notably at the level of the various commissions that will govern voter registration, vote count, and disputes. The amendment also empowered the Directorate General of Elections, the technical branch of ELECAM. These important reforms notwithstanding, the 2011 presidential elections suffered from many of the same problems related to registration, indelible ink, allegations of multiple voting, and other irregularities. Again, international observers did not consider the results to be significant to the outcome. Biya won with approximately 78% of the vote.
In the three elections held in 2013, the CPDM was the most popular party in most regions except in the Northwest, where it faced strong competition from the Social Democratic Front. Many residents of the Anglophone regions sought greater freedom, equality of opportunity, and better government by demanding regional autonomy rather than national political reform, and they formed several quasi-political organizations in pursuit of their goals. Authorities sometimes refused to grant opposition parties permission to hold rallies and meetings.
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