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New Electoral Code Is Disgrace To Cameroon – Mbah Ndam 

Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom — The Member of Parliament for Momo Constituency and one of the Vice Speakers of the National Assembly, Hon. Joseph Mbah Ndam, says the unique electoral code adopted over the weekend is a disgrace to Cameroon in the current political dispensation. In this exclusive interview with The Post in Yaounde on April 13, the MP cum lawyer, picked holes with the code, saying it cannot guarantee free, fair and transparent elections. Read excerpts below:

You are a member of the Constitutional Laws Committee and the SDF parliamentary group that has rejected the new bill on the electoral code. Don’t you think there is any thing positive about it?

The one thing that is positive about it is that, you will be able to find all the laws concerning the elections in one document. People who have been going around carrying many documents; probably have only one document to carry now. As to its content, there is little or nothing to write home about.

What are you actually gainsaying about that this bill?

We are saying that a very essential element that ought to be contained in this bill are blocked by the constitution. When we heard that the President of the Republic had decided to make an electoral code for Cameroon, we were told that a constitutional amendment will precede in order to permit these crucial elements to be included in the code. In fact, the Prime Minister promised that after the first draft would be made, it will be sent to the political parties so that there will be consensus on the draft before it is sent to parliament.

And so, we expected a constitutional amendment on the number of issues that would permit the argument of unconstitutionality to be put off. You have discovered that many of the vital issues that we asked were put off on the basis of unconstitutionality. We did not intend to violate our constitution. It is intended to show that until you cause the fundamental law to respond to these issues, an electoral code cannot be good for Cameroon in the present dispensation and that is what has just happened.

What the Prime Minister promised did not happen, would you say he lied or pulled a fast one on you?

They can keep pulling fast ones or what ever it is; the fact is that the aspirations of the Cameroonian people have not been met. It is evident that to get a good electoral code for Cameroon we need to look at the principle of the distribution of seats that would seek a single member constituency so that we don’t have people bulked together and at the end of the day the president creates special constituencies at his whims in order to win them.

We lived that bitter experience and therefore the rational thing to have done was- divide the country in to as many constituencies as there are seats in parliament and everybody vies. Not that there will be arbitrary calculations as we see. For example, In Mfoundi, there are seven parliamentarians and they constitute one constituency. So, you see that does not render justice. This has been turned down on the fact that it is unconstitutional.

The code provides for a biometric system of registration of voters, don’t you think it is something positive?

It’s total deceit. You know what happened is that when we heard that the so-called electoral register that has been the source of all troubles was now being annulled and that a new one will be drawn through biometrics, it brought euphoria. But nobody analysed it to see to what extent the biometrics will be implemented. The biometrics which is used in the preparation of the electoral register must equally be followed up and used during the voting.

That is to say, on the election day the data of the electoral register having been prepared using the biometrics, should be used to verify that the person who has came to vote is in effect the one who registered. And those kits and gadgets that are used are simply transposed to the polling stations. But what we want to do by this code is that they would make a biometric register and stop there.

Secondly, they are not giving the cards instantly as per the provisions of the code. They say they will give you receipts with which you cannot vote and they will eventually produce the voters’ cards and you will get back into the jumble process of distribution of the cards. So, we even proposed to improve on it so that the receipts are produced together with the identification card so that you will be able to vote.

Because, you get, for example, at the polling station and find your name on the register, you have your receipt and you have your identity card and your card cannot be found. They said that such amendments are thrown out whereas we know the difficulties in the distribution of cards and the dishonesty that often occur where some people take the cards and pocket them.

The Minister said during deliberations at the committee that the single ballot paper proposal could not be accepted because the electorate in Cameroon is predominantly illiterate. What is your take on that?

If you find a predominantly illiterate population which has at its hand on Election Day 23 ballot papers…. The world has only seven colors, and you ask an illiterate person to choose 1 ballot paper out of 23 different colors. Do you think the person will be able to choose that color? Whereas a single ballot paper has two advantages; it could be as broad as it is and the person will be seeing the broad picture and the area where you have to tick or indicate, fold it and put it into the box.

First of all it avoids the possibilities that we are not dealing with colors but pictures of persons well elaborated and the logos on the same paper so that you have to tick only once. Secondly, it avoids the fact that people go out, hide ballot papers in their pockets to go and sell them for money. Thirdly, it becomes difficult for an illiterate person to extrapolate the seven existing colours into 23 shades of colors.

You made some proposals that could empower ELECAM and make it more independent. We hear these amendments were rejected. What are these proposals?

You know all along there has been a crisis inside ELECAM……

What crisis are YOU talking about?

We are talking about the crisis between the two organs that were created. They created a Directorate General and the Electoral Board and caused the Directorate General to have more powers than the Electoral Board whereas, in effect, the chief elections’ officer of Cameroon ought to be the chairman of the electoral board and that the Electoral Board be the decision-making body, while the Directorate General becomes the implementing body.

What has happened is that the whole load of work in ELECAM is in the hands of the Directorate General who is said to work under the supervision and authority of the Electoral Board and this time around, he has to present a report every three months which means that before he presents the report, he has already done what the electoral board cannot change.

The idea was to revamp ELECAM such that power or decision making is in the hands of the board and the Directorate General becomes the Secretariat General which is charged with the implementation of the decisions taken by the board- not simply that the board supervises.

Do you know what the National Election Observatory [NEO] did by trying to supervise elections? It was helpless in supervising what the Territorial Administration was doing. It is the same context that has been transposed into ELECAM where the Directorate General is like the Territorial Administration and the Electoral Board is like NEO. So, what we wanted was a true board that takes the decisions and a secretariat that implements .This has been turned out.

The only thing you find in the explanatory statement is that the authority of the board is being asserted over the general directorate whereas those words do not mean anything. What is the sanction if the Directorate General refuses to act in accordance with the control or authority of the board? There are no sanctions. The only sanction is that the President of the Republic can revoke his appointment. And suppose he doesn’t and this is the crisis that continuous and will continue.

Your proposal that voting age is brought down to 18 years and many other issues were rejected. What is the way forward now?

You know that they were rejected on the argument that they were unconstitutional and that justifies the fact that we said a constitutional amendment ought to have preceded the presentation of the electoral code.

The way forward is that this matter is going to drag for long because we will multiply our efforts in the struggle to build a better Cameroon, to make Cameroon have a better electoral process. We are not tired, we have done it laboriously for 22years and we know how we have pushed this government. You remember ELECAM was amended more than three times before it ran its first elections.

You have been in parliament since 1997 and what happened today was kind of unprecedented because, for the first time the opposition was united against this electoral code. What do you think actually caused this because we saw the SDF parliamentary group walking out with the CDU?

You ought to add and the UNDP. That can tell you how profound the issue is, how concerned and disturbing the matter is and to tell you that the code that has been voted is disgraceful and has hurt political leaders across the board. It has hurt the political stakeholders and that for once we are unanimous and this unanimity is disapproval of the uncomfortable situation we are living in and the types of laws we want to adopt for our country in the 21st century.

From the very beginning we heard that there were heated debates within the central committee of the CPDM where your colleagues of the other side took the same stand like you. What happened at the end?

I don’t have an idea and I have never cared about them because it is the same scenario all the time. They talk and they don’t act. When this bill came in, this office was full of MPs of the CPDM who came to complain about it but once they went to the central committee, what happened to them I never cared to know.

So, I don’t know whether they were given money or intimidated. They are all cowards who yield to common situations against their wishes. I don’t want to know, all I want to know is that I am on track and that what we are talking about is good for this country and that it reflects what Cameroonians think.

First published in The Post print edition no. 01336

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