Civil Liberties Watch: Elections 2011

As the October 9th presidential election rapidly approaches, reports continue to surface about government-sponsored violations on Cameroonian civil liberties and foul play in organizaing the election. Voter apathy and potential polling boycotts notwithstanding, Cameroonian citizens deserve a free and fair election that respects the freedoms enumerated in their country’s constitution.

First, free press and free speech are essential in any functioning democracy, especially in the lead-up to elections. Unfortunately, the Cameroonian government has sharply curtailed the media in the last few weeks, with Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary prohibiting private media groups from broadcasting any debates or campaign programmes. In exchange, the government has equally allotted Cameroonian political parties timeslots on public radio and television to deliver their platforms. Although Minister Bakary claims that this will level the playing field for all 23 presidential candidates, it instead subjects the candidates to potential government censorship and severly limits the press’s right to independently report on the elections.

Second, freedom of assembly is also necessary for political parties to convene, organize, and campaign. Cameroonian law stipulates that the permits usually required for group meetings must be waived during the election period as to prevent checks on democratic activity. However, this year, meetings amongst various opposition parties have been shut down. For instance, Jean de Dieu Momo, one of the opposition candidates, was barred from holding a public campaign rally in President Paul Biya’s hometown of Mvomeka’a, claiming that the meeting jeopardized the safety of the President, who was visiting the town at the same time.

As an advocate for human rights, democracy, and good governance, GCI beseeches all government officials and institutions to respect Cameroonian law and the rights of political candidates in protecting the process of democracy during the 2011 presidential election.