Paul Zibi

 Paul Zibi 

 Lecturer in the University of Ebolowa, Cameroon

Senatorial elections held on 12 March 2023 introducing the third legislature of the Senate revealed the real nature of the Cameroonian political landscape. Between an elusive multiparty system and the indisputability of a dominant party, the structure of the Cameroonian political model seems to be heavily impacted. Indeed, there is a dichotomy between the democratic will for constitutional and legal recognition of elections and the political practice of elections that actually denotes a denial of both political pluralism and democratic alternation. Therefore, elections are no longer seen as a criterion of democratic legitimacy, but, rather as evidence of the decline of plural political expression. Besides sealing the predominance of the ruling party, the 2023 senatorial elections also unveiled the established supremacy of the President of the Republic particularly with respect to prospects for power alternation in the next presidential elections.

Electoral Supremacy of the Ruling Party

As the upper parliamentary house embodying decentralization, Cameroon Senate has 100 senators representing the ten regions of the country, amongst whom seventy are elected and thirty nominated. In accordance with Article 20 (2) of the Constitution and Article 214 (1) of the Electoral Code, each region shall be represented by ten senators, seven of which are elected by indirect universal suffrage on a regional basis and three appointed by presidential decree.

As far as the seventy elected are concerned, the 2023 senatorial elections, much more than overall elections held in recent years, have ultimately established the ultra-domination of the ruling party. Results proclaimed on 23 March 2023 by the Constitutional Council revealed that of the ten political parties that participated in the elections, only CPDM emerged with elected senators for a five year term. Further, out of 11,134 electors constituting the Electoral College comprising regional and municipal councilors, with 10, 924 having effectively cast their votes, 9, 316 voted for the CPDM (86.56 %). The nine other parties were unable to elect a single senator because of the ballot list system, comprising a majority system and a proportionate representation system. Compared to 2018 senatorial elections where only the main opposition party, Social Democratic Front (SDF), obtained seven seats out of seventy, this year's elections did not result in any seat sharing. CPDM having obtained all seventy elected seats.

Regarding the thirty appointed senators, the President of the Republic issued a decree on 31 March 2023 in accordance with Article 215(3) of the Electoral Code which states that the decree shall be published within ten days following the proclamation of results by the Constitutional Council. The main lesson learned from the profiles of the appointed senators is that the President, aware of the ultra-dominance of his ruling CPDM party, has opened seats to six members of opposition parties (ANDP, FSNC, MDR, SDF, UNDP and UPC); including three from the presidential majority (ANDP, FSNC and UNDP). Nevertheless, CPDM counts twenty-four appointed senators out of thirty. In sum, the number of elected and appointed senators from the presidential party is ninety-four out of one hundred.

Presidential Supremacy over the Senate

From a legal or political perspective, the President and his party rule the Senate in Cameroon. Focusing on the legal dimension, the renewal of senators’ term by presidential decree, which, goes in tandem with their re-eligibility through elections according to article 214 of Electoral Code, leads us to observe, for the 2023 elections, that there are twelve senators out of thirty who have been appointed each time since the first senatorial elections in 2013. For instance, it is noted that the three appointed senators from the South region have remained unchanged since 2013. As a matter of fact, in the current legislature the ratio of reappointed senators – those appointed three times since 2013 – is greater than the ratio of those re-elected. This presidential appointment power endorsed by the Constitution and the Electoral Code shows the political weight of the President, rather than the local representativeness that the Senate should normally embody as an institution representing decentralized territorial collectivities (Regional and Local Authorities).

It is the very expression of the neologism "deconcentralisation" - an imperfect decentralization, of which a certain doctrine relates to. Indeed, it seems easier for an appointed senator’s term to be renewed through nomination from one legislature to another, than an elected one who would benefit from popular legitimacy. This constitutionally entrenched imbalance in the democratic system makes the President of the Republic, Chief of party, the real guarantor of the existence of the Senate as an institution representing the Regional and Local Authorities.

In addition to this reality of presidentialisation of the Senate in Cameroon, there are other advantages accruing to the ruling party. These include, presidential appointment of members of the electoral commission, ELECAM; the control of the administrative map; the unilateral elaboration of the electoral law and the overabundant political representation because of the seniority of the ruling party.

The 2023 senatorial elections and appointments instead of expressing democratic pluralism have brought to the limelight the theory of ‘one-party dominance’ influential in political sciences. In this regard, one might ask whether the dominance of one political party is a problem in an emerging democracy such as Cameroon, or simply an expression of the will of the people. The answer to this depends on the nature of the Cameroonian political regime which is a presidential one, with the President of the Republic holding most of the reins of power. Such presidential dominance is not only detrimental to the constitutional balance of powers, but also, damaging to the pluralist dimension of democracy. The most important lesson to be learned from the CPDM’s ascendancy in these senatorial elections, is the certainty of the outcome of the next presidential election in 2025, after the incumbent president’s forty years in office.

Cite as: Zibi, P. (2023) Cameroon 2023 Senatorial Elections: The Heyday of the Dominant Party. Available at: https://ancl-radc.org.za/blog/cameroon-2023 (Accessed: [date] [month] [year])

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