, 15 February, 2020 / 1:00 PM
As Cameroonians await the official proclamation of results of Municipal and Legislative elections that took place Sunday, February 9, the Catholic Bishops of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) have, in a preliminary statement, observed that the country’s elections took place in a calm atmosphere despite a low voter turnout.
“The Bishops note that, on the whole, the elections took place in a calm atmosphere, despite a timid voter turnout,” NECC President Bishop Abraham Kome told journalists Monday, February 10 at a press briefing in Bafang, a town situated in the Haut-Nkam division of the West Region.
Reading the statement on behalf of Bishops in Cameroon, Bishop Kome explained, “The low turnout undoubtedly means that the basic law in the Electoral Code that governs elections in Cameroon needs to be revised in order to arouse the enthusiasm of the people in the fulfilment of their civic duty.”
The Local Ordinary of Bafang cited cases of voter apathy saying, “in Bisono Gendarmerie in Sangmelima, there were 85 voters out of 310 registered. In Ngui, a locality in Dschang, 50 voters out of 200 registered took part in the election; in Batouri 80.57 percent abstention rate; in Bertoua 70 percent. This abstention rate was therefore almost general.”
Elections for the country's legislature and local councils took place for the first time in seven years, after two postponements, Al Jazeera News has reported.
The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) is widely expected to retain its majority in Parliament. In the outgoing legislature, the party had 148 out of 180 seats.
The CPDM supports 86-year-old Paul Biya, one of the world's oldest and longest serving leaders, who has ruled the country for 37.
The main opposition party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) refused to field a single candidate after its leader, Maurice Kamto, who spent nine months in jail after his defeat in 2018 presidential elections and is now overseas, called for a boycott of the elections.
Other opposition parties including the Social Democratic Front (SDF), which currently has 18 seats, took part in Sunday's vote, going back on a threat to snub it.
Official results for both elections are expected within 20 days.
In anticipation of the presidential, municipal and legislative elections to be held in 2018, the NECC issued a pastoral letter on 24 August 2018 in which it called for peaceful, free and transparent elections that respect the right of participation and the expression of the will of the people.
In the letter, the Bishops emphasized the mission of accompanying the electoral process entrusted to the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, which is particularly involved in the Christian observation of the elections.
The Bishops, through the Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC), deployed 262 observers accredited by the Minister of Territorial Administration, against the 313 that had been requested.
Through CJPC, the Church seeks to contribute to improving the credibility of the electoral process in Cameroon.
“These observers were distributed in 46 of Cameroon's 58 Divisions,” Bishop Kome said and continued, “Among them, 17 observers from the troubled North West and South West regions were not able to observe the elections for security reasons.”
The Bishop who doubles as the Apostolic Administrator of Bafia highlighted the efficiency of the electoral process, noting that the opening and closing of polling stations complied with the provisions of the decree convening the electorate and that election materials were available and in sufficient quantity in the polling stations.
The Bishops in Cameroon, however, regretted the fact that “Posters and other campaign materials from some parties were still present in some localities on polling day,” adding that bits of violence were also observed.
“Cases of violence were noted in some localities,” they said and added, “In most of the polling stations, representatives of the ruling CPDM party were present, which was not always the case for other competing political parties.”
With these observations, the Bishops in Cameroon have also outlined some recommendations for a better organization of elections in future.
To the officials in charge of the organization of elections, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) and the Ministry of Territorial Administration, the Bishops urge them to “take into account the shortcomings and cases of fraud observed for the proper conduct of elections without irregularities in the future.”
“We count on the high sense of responsibility of the Constitutional Council and other bodies that deal with electoral disputes and the proclamation of results to translate and respect the choice of the Cameroonian people as freely expressed in the ballot box.,” they added.
To political parties and candidates, the bishops recommend, “In the event of victory, do not in any way seek to provoke or humiliate your opponents. In case of failure, acknowledge your defeat and congratulate the winner or winners.”
“We exhort all actors to resort to legal channels in case of possible contestation,” the Cameroonian Prelates recommend.
To the people of Cameroon, “We reiterate the fact that defeat must not give rise to acts of violence, looting and vandalism. Knowing that peace in our country is fragile we must create or preserve at our achievements in favor of social cohesion.”
Meanwhile, the bishops expressed concern about the Anglophone crisis in the north-west and south-west regions of the country.
“We regret that four months after the holding of the Major National Dialogue, which proposed solutions for ending the crisis in these regions, we are still not satisfied with the situation in these regions,” they said in their collective statement.
The bishops added, “Insecurity persists in spite of everything and has prevented many citizens living in these areas from exercising their civil rights.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa