By Francis Wache

Controversy has been raging for some time about whether Cameroonians should register to vote or not. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, has been calling from the rooftops for Cameroonians to register.

President Biya even went as far as decreeing that free identity cards should be issued to those who do not own them; all this, in a bid to spur potential voters to register. The frontline opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, SDF, recently joint the voter registration bandwagon and called on Cameroonians to ensure that they register in droves.

This year’s Presidential election is critical because, besides designating the country’s supreme ruler, who wields colossal powers – Head of State, party Chairman, Commander of the Armed Forces, Chair of the Judiciary Council, and so on – it will also put in place the leadership that will manage or mismanage the affairs of the State for the next seven long years.

On the issue of freely choosing leaders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that; “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, this will/shall be expressed in periodic and genuine (my emphasis) elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

And, so, whether you belong to the ruling party or the opposition or the civil society, the important point to bear in mind is that, to register and participate in an election is a civic right and duty. Your participation in the election is, therefore, crucial since it will determine which way the country goes. If the ballot is free, fair and transparent, it should bring the leadership that will steer the ship of State for the common good.

The fundamental law on who is eligible to register is straightforward. It states: “Every person of Cameroonian nationality or any naturalised Cameroonian, of either sex, who has reached the age of 20 years and is not under any of the disqualifications laid down by this law, shall be entitled to be an elector.”

It is true that, because the elections in the past have been rigged and flawed, Cameroonians have become apathetic and cynical about elections. They argue, in essence, that their vote won’t count. This is true. But what is equally true is that no two elections are the same. Despite the irregularities and egregious malpractices of the past, things might just be different this time around. After all, members of ELECAM have gone out to town asking Cameroonians to give them a chance. And they are all honourable ladies and gentlemen. Or so we imagine.

Besides, political events are in a constant flux and occur with such bewildering speed and changes that you can never predict outcomes. Imagine, for instance that, at the last minute, through some concatenation of circumstances, the ball game were to change, and you had not registered, you would simply have squandered an opportunity  that would take you seven more  years –if ever – to repair the damage.

That is why, we exhort Cameroonians to take the risk and give ELECAM a chance while, at the same time, steeling themselves to handle any acts of electoral fraud. In the past, a good number of Cameroonians were disenfranchised because they could not afford the national identity card. This year, however, the Head of State decreed that all Cameroonians could obtain these cards for free. This gesture is supposed to have galvanised many Cameroonians to register. Good.

But, then, as we gear for the imminent election, we should not forget that elections all over the African continent are hazardous affairs. Most often, incumbents are hell-bent to sit tight. They use methods that are more foul than fair to cling to power. Yet, there have been cases where the tenacity, doggedness and determination and vigilance of the electorate have seen power change hands. That is generally referred to as People Power.

In order to assist you perform your patriotic duty by registering and voting to choose those to rule you, The Post is taking measures to inform you about your rights before, during and after this year’s presidential poll. We have resolved to be with you all the way through the entire electoral process: from registering to voting to counting the ballot. Stay with us.

As we grope towards the election, public opinion continues to hold the SDF responsible for the democratic hold-up Cameroon is currently experiencing because, they say, the party boycotted the 1992 legislative elections. Possibly recalling that critique, Fru Ndi had this to say on the eve of the 2004 presidential polls; “With bad or good laws, we’re taking part in elections.

We’re going to fight. And if we boycotted the last election (2004) because the laws were bad, we would have given the CPDM a field day. We’ll still go out, and with our participation, we’ll be able to point out the ills of the laws they’ve put in place.” Since the battle promises to be rugged, the point here is: “We’re going to fight.” Therefore, register, vote and fight to ensure that your vote counts.