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Banning Debates As Hallmark Of Dictatorship 

By Bouddih Adams — The Government has, once again, proscribed debates on air in the build-up to the Senatorial elections on April 14. The Government of Cameroon usually suspends debates, talk shows, all live and interactive programmes in which political issues could be raised.

This is incongruous for a country going into a democratic exercise but barring the ways for democratic exchanges that would have armed the electorate to take informed and reasoned decisions, through their votes. In other countries like next-door Nigeria, the US and democracies in Europe, it is during such  periods that more programmes are created to animate public debates so as to educate the electorate to make the right choices, in the interest of the state and love for the nation.

What is the party in power and the Government afraid of? Does the electorate need to listen to the radio only now to know that CPDM MPs and some civil servants were involved in rackets sending people abroad with fake documents, and that some of their Senatorial aspirants are common law criminals, tax evaders and morally despicable persons? Do we need TV debates to know that almost all CPDM elites that have been appointed Ministers and General Managers have stolen from the State until nearly an entire Government is in prison?

Banning debates on air is equal to disenfranchising public opinion – an affront to freedom of opinion and to freedom of speech.  Of course, all of this is an attempt at rigging public opinion and, through it, hijack the election. To begin with, Biya decreed the Senatorial elections to hold before the Municipal elections. The Councillors who form the Electoral College are on their way out, even after a long extension of their mandate which expired in July last year.

New Councillors, who will be elected in a couple of months from today, will have to work with Senators they did not elect. This, in deeper reflection, will make the Senators not to be responsible to the Councillors. That is setting the stage for Senators who are supposed to scrutinise decisions taken by the (lower) House of Parliament and the Regional Councils and take important decisions that affect the nation, not be unaccountable to the people who are supposed to have elected them. This is, willy-nilly, a dangerous precedent. 

The President seems to be so myopic that he has not realised that all these short-cuts in three decades have rather always taken him further away from his destination. Putting Senatorial elections before Council elections is, indeed, taking the Cameroons far away from Destination 2035. One would have thought that Destination or Vision 2035 would mean moving the Cameroons forward politically, democratically, economically and socially so that by the year 2035, it would emerge as a holistically developed nation.

The President is still short-changing political parties and the people of the Cameroons, when he still has 30 persons to be appointed, from his own party, to make up the 100 members of Senate. Yet, he lays claims to democratic principles. But, if you want to visit a country where the President sings democracy each time but practices quite the opposite, then you are welcome to Cameroon. However, let the Senatorial elections not distract us from the real elections with proximity impact.

If our political scientists, constitutional law experts, university dons and the academia were intellectuals worthy of the name, their voices would have been renting the air as to whether the electoral law stipulates that during elections debates on air should be proscribed; whether it is the President of the Elections Commission or the President of the Republic who should have postponed the deadline for registration, or whether, as we said last time, voting age should be set at 21 instead of 18, and so on and so forth. Here, nothing.

Or are they waiting for everything to come and pass and the President appoints the 30 members of Senate for them to send motions of support? In some other countries, intellectuals would be arguing that the people nominated by the President, just like Government Ministers, should be scanned and scrutinised by Parliament, before they are finally appointed.

In Nigeria, for example, all Government Ministers nominated by the President are vetted by Parliament before the President appoints them. In Nigeria, it is the President or Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who, when he discovered that not many people had registered, extended the deadline for registration, within the ambits of the law.

But in the Cameroons, it is the President of the Republic and Chair of the one of the political parties which has a vested interest in expected electoral competition that postponed the deadline for registration. Even the Chair of the Electoral Commission in the Cameroons, is often taken unawares by decisions taken on behalf of the organisation he is supposed to be heading. Remember how he argued against transparent ballot boxes, then, President Biya ordered that they be used.

At least, no one would forget how fiercely he argued against the use of biometric kits, saying they are very expensive to procure, only for him to learn, like any ordinary Cameroonian, that the biometric kits will be acquired. So where is ELECAM in this business of elections – registering voters, distributing election materials? Because a dictatorship only functions in an enabling environment; where the intellectual class that is supposed to be the minders of their society are in some political romance with the ruling class.

Nevertheless, someday, someday very soon, these somewhat pseudo-intellectuals will face the court of public opinion and will have to tell the people why they frolicked and gallivanted with the dictator, went to sleep and snored, while the people were being defiled by his regime. For, no matter how long it lasts, the marriage between the intellectual and the dictator is usually wedlock in a padlock that ends up in a deadlock.
Are We Together?

First published in The Post print edition no 01423

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