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Cameroon - 2004 Election

Legislative elections of 2002 and Presidential elections of 2004 followed a similar pattern - the CPDM consolidated its grip on the national assembly. Biya won the Presidential elections of 2004 with 75% of the vote according to the official result. Legislative and local elections were held on 22 July 2007. The CPDM further consolidated its grip on power, eventually gaining 153 out of 180 parliamentary seats once elections were re-run in five districts in September. The SDF won 16 seats. The electoral roll was computerised which has aided transparency but there remain widespread concerns about the low turnout. Voter apathy has been exacerbated the difficulty of registering and widespread irregularities in the electoral system.

Under pressure from the international community to separate electoral organisation from the highly partisan administration, the government, on 29 December 2006 established a body to supervise elections (ELECAM). This body had not yet become operational and the elections of July 2007 were run by the Ministry of Territorial Administration.

President Biya acted to discourage corruption in his government. A law was adopted on declaration of assets by officials and ministers. In December 2007, former minister and former General Manager of the Port of Douala, Alphonse Siyam Siwe, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for corruption. Others in the same case, including the former port Chairman and Government Delegate in Douala Colonel Eduard Etonde Ekoto, were also given substantial prison sentences. A new anti-corruption commission, CONAC, was established and its members sworn in.

The situation in Cameroon began deteriorating on 23 February 2008 after Social Democratic Front (SDF, the main opposition party) parliamentarian Jean Michel Nintheu attempted to demonstrate in Douala against a proposed constitutional amendment to remove presidential term limits. According to witnesses, gendarmes were waiting for Nintheu at the site of the demonstration and he canceled the protest because he did not have enough demonstrators. In an effort to intimidate the population, police and gendarmes used water cannons and tear gas in the surrounding neighborhood. The population, already incensed by the GRC closure of a popular independent TV station, left their homes and surrounded the gendarmes. The security forces responded forcefully, in the process killing two youths.

On 25-27 February 2008 Cameroon experienced its worst period of violence since the early 1990s. Douala, the port city, erupted into violence on February 25. The same day all major cities in Cameroon, with the exception of those in the Grand North and East, observed the taxi strike. The capitals of the West, North West, South West and Center Provinces (including Yaounde) subsequently experienced violence and looting. Violent protests and looting left major property damage and 16-17 dead (according to government estimates; nonofficial estimates were much higher). The causes were a mix of political and economic factors, including rising fuel and other commodity prices, the killing of two youths in a political demonstration, the government closure of a popular TV station, the President's plans to change the constitution, and internal power struggles. The GRC quelled the violence with a strong military presence and a crackdown on opposition voices and those the government considered to be potential troublemakers. A tense calm was restored but unless the government (GRC) took steps to address some of the people's grievances, demonstrations could reignite.

Some senior government officials were convinced that at the heart of the unrest was an ongoing high-stakes power struggle, with elements of the government and some ousted senior officials (such as former Finance and Economy Minister Polycarpe Abah Abah) trying to sow instability and undermine the President. As evidence, they argue that rioters received pay-offs, that the riots were limited to certain regions of the country (five of ten provinces and only certain districts within each affected province), and that the violence of the past week appeared unusually well coordinated. There was certain paranoia at top levels of government. There was a great disconnect between the government and society in Cameroon and many average Cameroonians were tired of Biya's 25 year reign.





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