Mar 21, 2013

ELECAM and the Super-Chief Electoral Officer

Tazoacha Asonganyi
by Tazoacha Asonganyi

The hullabaloo about senatorial elections persists, but the process of producing a new electoral register that some people claim would have produced a more acceptable Electoral College for the senatorial elections seems to be going on unperturbed. Meanwhile, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) has been claiming that its activities are controlled by the electoral code, even if it is in violation of the code that it started the biometric registration of voters in Cameroon on October 3, 2012 and said it would last until February 28, 2013.

With the approach of the closing date for the registration of voters, the election body’s promise that it would register some 7 million voters started haunting it, since it had hardly succeeded in registering up to 50% of the promised target. Therefore cries of low turnout started coming from all over the country, including from within ELECAM itself. And so the Super-Chief electoral officer, Paul Biya decreed that registration should continue for another month, until March 29, 2013; and so did it!

As March 29 approaches, we are still hearing cries of voter apathy although ELECAM is claiming that they have already registered about 5 million voters. In addition, ELECAM is informing Cameroonians that even the March 29 deadline can be abridged by the Super-Chief, if he decides to convene the electoral corps today! In other words, ELECAM has no clear agenda that binds even their Super-Chief, as far as putting up a credible electoral roll is concerned.

Yet, the standard approach for setting up a credible electoral roll using the biometric system is that this first phase of general registration of voters provides what would be called a “raw” – preliminary - list of voters. Following the first phase, the “raw” list is published in the various areas for verification and corrections. This second phase provides a “raw” corrected electoral roll. The “raw corrected” roll is then screened centrally with multibiometric identification technology containing a matching server to automatically detect and delete multiple registration to clean up the register. It is this cleaned up register that constitutes a national electoral register that can be used for free, fair and credible elections. Indeed, it is this last phase that should tell us how many eligible voters have been actually registered by ELECAM using the biometric voter registration system.

Those with entrenched interests – the spoilers who made nonsense of past electoral registers: political thugs-cum-bandits-cum-party bigwigs – have been visibly and audibly active in the field to re-enact their exploits. If ELECAM goes through this process of editing the raw list, as it is expected to, the number of registered voters in Cameroon may still be quite low. The low figures would be a reflection of the general lack of confidence in the electoral body. The lack of confidence is due to the general perception that since Paul Biya appointed mainly people from the CPDM into the elections management body, they do not meet the legal prescription that they should be “independent personalities … reputed for their stature, moral uprightness, intellectual honesty, patriotism, neutrality and impartiality.”

Unfortunately, since this perception was created, the electoral body has so far not made enough effort to convince the public that they deserve the public’s confidence. Recently newspapers reported that UPC bigwigs were arrested in Douala because they were marching in the streets with placards carrying anti-ELECAM messages reading: “No to ELECAM,” “ELECAM was put in place to continually rig elections and maintain Paul Biya and his friends in power…” Indeed, such UPC messages can be said to be the epitome, the metaphor for the thoughts that shape the behaviour of eligible voters in Cameroon. The people think that ELECAM does not enjoy independence of action that is supposed to help it to build public confidence in the outfit.

Public confidence in an electoral body is crucial to the success of elections and the cooperation of the public in case of some unforeseen hitches. It is because Professor Attahiru Jega the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) enjoyed the trust and confidence of the electorate that when he postponed the national assembly elections of April 2, 2010 at the last minute, the mobilized electorate showed patience and understanding. It is because of confidence in the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that the recent confusion caused by “a virus” did not lead to chaos. I doubt that with the perception Cameroonians have of ELECAM, the election body would enjoy such confidence and trust if there were an unforeseen last minute hitch in the Cameroon electoral process.

In the past, elections failed in Cameroon because the electoral register was “doctored” by administrative officials, political self-seekers and bandits to ensure victory for Paul Biya and CPDM candidates before each Election Day. How ELECAM proceeds to produce the electoral register that will be used for the upcoming elections will re-enforce or break the negative perception the electoral body is presently grappling with.

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