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By Dr Kuba Abouem Perpétue
Lecturer, Department of Peace and Development Studies, Protestant University of Central Africa

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The “years of embers” of 1990 marked the return to a multi-party system in Cameroon (Cameroon-tribune 2017), putting an end to the single-party system instituted in 1966, with the symbolic transformation of the Cameroonian Union (CU) into the Cameroonian National Union (CNU). Two major currents triggered this movement. These were upheavals on the international scene and their effects on national politics. In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of the Cold War, perceived as the triumph of the West and “the end of history” (Fukuyama, 1992). Against this backdrop, the French President François Mitterand gave a speech at La Baule that marked the beginning of the “third wave of democratization” (Huntington, 1991). On June 20, 1990, at the 16th  France/Africa Conference, France decided to make access to Development Aid conditional on the establishment of democracy, in a sort of “Democracy against Aid”. Popular demands and tensions erupted, jeopardizing security and peace. This break with the past, marked by what was seen at the time as an easing of East-West antagonisms and tensions, which had the opposite effect on the African continent. Despite its perverse effects, however, respect for democratic freedoms was reaffirmed by the African Union in 2007 in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

In Cameroon, President Paul Biya’s call to his political comrades to “prepare for possible competition” was given concrete expression in the laws of December 1990 on public freedoms. A multi-party system was legalized and the organization of elections was structured. This organization underwent several changes, ranging from MINAT’s responsibility for ONEL’s various transformations to ELECAM’s changes contained in Law N°2012/001 of 19 April 2012 on the Electoral Code, supplemented and amended by Law N°2019/005 of 25 April 2019 amending and supplementing certain provisions of Law N°2012/001 of 19 April 2012 on the Electoral Code.

Several decades after the return to a multi-party system, politics remains a major security issue. The 2018 post-electoral crisis reminded us of this sensitivity, particularly in its legal aspects. It was a particular moment in electoral disputes and their consequences. It highlighted the role of post-electoral disputes in exacerbating violence and opened up a round of disputes and demands detrimental to the authority of the State and to living together. With the aim of verifying the legality of electoral acts and the validity of electoral results, electoral dispute is intended to settle disputes calling into question the legality of electoral processes (Masclet, 1989). In Cameroon, its reform is an imperative for peace, generally mentioned by political actors and civil society organizations.

A problematic context of restricted electoral dispute

Cameroon’s Electoral System continues to suffer from structural and operational limitations that fuel mistrust and distrust of electoral competitions. The proliferation of electoral disputes since the return to a multi-party system has made it difficult to establish a virtuous circle in the behavior of stakeholders. The public nature of proceedings, such as the public trials held by the Constitutional Council during the post-electoral dispute for the 2018 Presidential Election, does not seem to be curbing the trend towards electoral trafficking. The impunity of criminal acts committed at grassroots level, due to the limits of the litigation procedure, sustains the negative representations made of the political sphere, which is said to be a world where anything goes, where cheating, fraud, embezzlement and breaking the law are considered normal. “Talking like a politician”, “playing politics”, “leaving politics”, these are pejorative expressions for deceit, manipulation, cowardice and so on. To allow this culture to flourish by denying the law is to maintain the opprobrium on this area of public life, which is essential to the definition, conduct and management of the major issues facing society. What’s more, it’s a prime breeding ground for public disorder, a threat to peace and security, and a source of violence.

In 1990, however, the organization of elections within a multi-party framework was adopted as a solution to ease the tensions and socio-political demands expressed loudly, including by the “street” (Masclet, 1992). More than three decades later, the avatars of conflict are multiplying. The lexical field of political competition reflects the growing tension. “Granite pedestal”, “impregnable base”, “zombification” – these are all expressions used by political entrepreneurs to mobilize and gather support. The anti-pluralist and quasi-sectarian rhetoric of political actors has led to the creation of Political Communities (“sardinards”, “tontinards”, “cabris”, etc.) that challenge each other and clash over the law, which it is up to the courts to re- establish. However, Cameroon’s electoral judges remain cautious. As Marcelin Nguele Abada points out, the electoral judge’s jurisdiction is restricted to electoral operations stricto sensu, whereas in the case of legislative elections, he has a general jurisdiction clause enabling him to rule on all disputes arising from these elections (Nguele Abada, 2005). This gives de facto flexibility to fraudsters and to fraud, which is nonetheless considered an infringement of the right to self-determination of peoples, and which was once used by the colonists to counter the popularity of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) (Friedich Hebert Foundation, 2012) . This reluctance on the part of the electoral judge reinforces the confinement of the dispute over results to the post-electoral phase, as provided for in the Electoral Code. Article 134 of the Code provides that the Constitutional Council may, without prior adversarial investigation, reject, by reasoned decision, petitions that are inadmissible or contain only grievances “that can have no bearing on the results of the election”. In addition, the deadline is short as in the case of legislative elections where 72 hours are allotted to bring the case before the Court. This makes it impossible to optimize the constitution and presentation of evidence. Article 293 excludes, except in cases of flagrante delicto, criminal proceedings against any candidate suspected of infringing the provisions of the law before the results of the election have been announced. The particularity of the reports transmitted by ELECAM at the end of the voting operations is the subject of particular controversy. Article 115 paragraph 3 of the Electoral Code, which deals with minutes, states that “the original shall be forwarded by the Chairperson of the Local Voting Commission to the head of Elections Cameroon’s Council Branch for archiving. This original is deemed authentic. As can be seen, the original is the focus of much attention and, incidentally, of more or less legal wrangling. Although it is deemed to reflect the truth of the ballot box, as stipulated in Article 62 of the Electoral Code (it is signed by all the members of the Local Voting Commission ).  The fact remains that the hierarchical power to which this body is subject, whose leaders are appointed by decision of the President of the Republic, raises suspicions in the Electoral Commission. It is also distrusted by the opposition and other civil society players in a context of over-representation of the dominant party (which controls the executive and holds almost all the seats in the two chambers of parliament). Decisions taken by ELECAM representatives, including those acting on the base of article 60 as Chairperson of the Local Polling Commission (they are responsible for policing the elections within the polling station), are suspected of administrative and political docility.

In practice, the criminal provisions relating to electoral offences set out in Articles 288 to 292 of the Electoral Code are difficult to apply. Offences relating to the violation of the status of voter and the rules of competition ethics during election campaigns and on polling day are likely to compromise not only the sincerity of the results, but also social cohesion and the authority of the State. These include the buying of people’s consciences, various forms of fraud, ballot-box stuffing and other acts of violence. Producing evidence in this area is proving particularly laborious. In this case, the Electoral Calendar, with elections scheduled for Sunday, a public holiday, is not conducive to the bailiff’s reports that would make it possible to document irregularities and other violations of legal provisions. The president of the High Court, who has the power of authorization in such matters, almost systematically refuses to issue such authorizations, on the grounds that the offence is fictitious or lacking in substance at the time the document is drawn up. In such cases, the constant “jurisprudence” of the Centre Region Court of Appeal systematically rejects such applications. The question of whether or not Election Day is a public holiday is the subject of ongoing debate. Thus, on “Election Day”, the high point of all the manipulations and violations of legal and regulatory rules, the judiciary seems to be at half-mast. The result is de facto impunity in the face of abuses of all kinds, fueling a culture of political violence and turning the voting process into a kind of “maquis”. The high rate of inadmissibility and rejection of petitions by the competent courts bears witness to this. This situation leads to a much more damaging denial, given the Electoral System. Cameroon’s Electoral System is systematically single-round, whether mixed or single-member, majority or proportional, which makes the atmosphere even more electric, given the impossibility of a second chance in the second round.

The post-election phase of electoral disputes, in particular, raises socio-political risks (Vergne and Laville, 2018), the repercussions of which go beyond the economic sphere and affect social cohesion and the authority of the State.

Strengthening electoral litigation to consolidate social cohesion and the authority of the State

Electoral competition, as a means of validating opinions and political leadership, is the framework par excellence for negotiating and producing socio-political consensus. Its conception, its functioning and the sanctions in the event of violation of its rules are of proven sensitivity. From this standpoint, reducing post-electoral disputes to the contestation of results limits the scope of the law in consolidating an inclusive Electoral System that encourages people to live together and promotes Republican Values.

By taking into account a wide range of breaches of Electoral Law, electoral dispute would better guarantee the protection of Republican and Social Values through the promotion of political virtue. It would also foster, particularly at local level, the culture of electoral transparency that is essential to anchoring and consolidating democracy. The situation of the courts in electoral disputes and the scope of the powers devolved to them means that they are far removed from local communities and grassroots action, even though they are heavily involved in the conduct of elections on polling day. The result is that enmities, tensions, political rifts and systems of counter-value are held in abeyance within local communities, with no possibility of being addressed by the law or any other social body.

Policy Recommendations:

  • Empower and raise awarenessat the grassroots level as regard to the provision of articles 288 to 292 of the Electoral Code concerning criminal liability ;
  • Increase the time limit for bringing cases to court;
  • Authorize production of bailiff’s reports on the Election Day ;
  • Strengthen the civic capacity of young people to ensure the rule of law endures.


This paper has unraveled the fact that, the culture of electoral malpractice, fostered by impunity, fosters distrust of the authority of the State in Cameroon. The harmful effects of electoral impunity for grassroots communities go far beyond the “truth of the ballot box” or community solidarity, and concern the authority of the State. As a person governed by the rule of law, flouting the law is tantamount to undermining its very foundations. It is important for its stability that the rules it has set itself to optimize its performance and the fulfillment of its missions are respected.


  1. Cameroon-tribune (2017, November 6). “années de braise”: Le Cameroun comme un roseau.
  2. Fukuyama, C. (1992). The end of history and the last man: Free Press.
  3. Friedich Hebert Foundation (2012) : Preventing and combating electoral fraud in Cameroon. Yaounde: Clé
  4. Huntington, S.P. (1991). The third Wave: Democratization in the late twentieth century: University of Oklahoma press.
  5. Law N°2019/005 of April 25, 2019 amending and supplementing certain provisions of Law N°2012/001 of April 19, 2012 on the Electoral Code
  6. Masclet, J.C. (1989). Droit électoral. coll. « Droit politique et théorique » : PUF
  7. Masclet, J.C. (1992). Le droit des élections politiques. coll. « Que sais-je ? » : PUF
  8. Nguele Abada, M. (2005). Naissance d’un contre-pouvoir: Réflexions sur la loi portant organisation et fonctionnement du Conseil constitutionnel camerounais. Revue de la recherche juridique (4) : 2465- 2502.
  9. Vergne, C. & Laville, C. (2018). Comment analyser le risque sociopolitique ? Une composante clé du risque-pays. Dans : C. Vergne & C. Laville (Dir), Comment analyser le risque sociopolitique ? Une composante clé du risque-pays (pp. 1-52). Paris Cedex 12: Agence française de développement.


This research was conducted within the framework of the Capacity Building for the Centre of
Excellence (CoE) in Post-conflict societies project, funded by the UK Research and
Innovation (UKRI) in collaboration with African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).