Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reluctance to exercise voting rights in Cameroon

The right to vote is a fundamental civil and political right. History tells us that many disenfranchised people around the world fought and died for the right to vote. But in Cameroon many people - especially the young - take voting rights for granted and never register to vote in elections, including presidential, municipal or parliamentary elections.

On 30 September 2013 Cameroonians took to the polls for parliamentary and municipal elections. I was able to have a feel of the situation on the ground on election day thanks to social media. A few of my Facebook friends voted and posted photos online while others expressed their lack of enthusiasm to vote.

A report on France 24 stated that 5.4 million voters headed to the polls and 29 parties had candidates in legislative elections. Mindful of the fact that Cameroon has a population of about 20 million, it is clear that many Cameroonians did not participate.

As a Cameroonian, I understand the lack of enthusiasm to vote. Elections in Cameroon have a long history of "irregularities" and [allegations of] fraud and electoral malpractices. Many Cameroonians believe the country's 80-year-old president has been in power since 1982 due to phony elections and a flawed electoral process that favors the ruling party. There are reports of cases where the names of known dead people appeared on voters' rolls. Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), the body responsible for organizing and supervising elections, is believed to be compromised since some of its board members appointed by the Head of State are reportedly affiliated to the ruling party. Some of them, including a former Minister of Social Affairs and a couple of former Vice Ministers are known regime loyalists.

There're compelling reasons for Cameroonians - especially youths who have known only one president in their lifetime - to be reluctant to vote. However, I believe the ruling party thrives on a disorganized and fragmented opposition as well as on boycotts by numerous voting-age Cameroonians. I therefore applaud all those who, despite the odds, headed to the polls on 30 September to cast ballots in delayed legislative and local elections. Their votes might not count but they played their part. I encourage everyone to register and vote in the future. Real change will only come if more young people exercise their civil and political rights, including the right to vote and stand as candidates in legislative, local and presidential elections.

Personally, I didn't vote due to reasons beyond my control. If I were on the ground I would've definitely voted and my vote wouldn't have been in support of the status quo. The current system has failed the majority of people in Cameroon for more than three decades. The country is rich but poverty stricken. More of the same - thirty years later - won't change the sorry-state of affairs shored up by a toxic mix of unemployment, poverty and human rights violations. Change is possible through the ballot box but a truly independent, transparent, impartial and credible electoral board is needed to make it happen.

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