At the last election, which took place in 2018, the ruling party swept 63 out of the 70 elective seats available. The remaining seven seats went to the main opposition, Social Democratic Front, SDF, while President Biya appointed 30, who were predominantly from his ruling party.
This year, the scenario is different. Barrister Henry Kamende, a political force in Balikumbat, Ngoketunjia division of the North West region, who influenced the regional victory, at the last poll, is of blessed memory and the ruling party remains the only cock to crow in the division. Statistically, the CPDM has more councillors in the North West. Since each region forms a single list of seven elective candidates, there is hardly any logic to consider another SDF victory, especially at this time when the party is facing internal conflict of leadership and accountability.
Although the security situation is not as risky today as it was in 2018, Ayaba Cho, one of the separatist leaders, has also warned against the holding of elections in the Anglophone regions, which is bad news for the opposition as the two regions are SDF stronghold.
The election by indirect suffrage, with an electoral college made up of members of municipal and regional councils, has several challenges, especially for the disunited and financially weak opposition.
Candidates for the office of senator have a 15-day deadline, which is January 28, to declare their candidacy in triplicate with their notarised signatures as required by article 231 paragraph 1 and article 164 paragraph 1 of the Electoral Code.
The declarations are deposited and registered against a receipt at the General Directorate of Elections Cameroon, ELECAM, or at the level of the divisional delegations of ELECAM of the constituency concerned.
A copy is then filed with the Constitutional Council by the candidate or his representative against a receipt. The candidate must be 40 years of age on the date of the election, be a Cameroonian citizen of origin and prove effective residence in the territory of the region concerned, in addition to a deposit of one million FCFA.
In his traditional end-of-year speech last December, President Biya said: “The senatorial elections to be held in 2023 will be an opportunity to consolidate the option of decentralisation that we have taken, by renewing the Upper House of our Parliament, which represents the decentralised territorial communities”.
This year, the electorate will increase to include 870 regional councillors following their election of December 6, 2020. They will be added to the 10,600 municipal councillors to form a college of over 11,000 voters, who will vote the new senators.
Cameroon Renaissance Movement, MRC which by virtue of its strong performance at the last presidential election is the main opposition party in the country, has no councillor since it boycotted the council elections. So, even if it contests, it will just be expecting defeat before the polls, just like other opposition parties that do not have majority of councillors in any region.
If it were a polity where people vote according to their consciences, Cameroonians would have expected a lively competitive election. But since the CPDM politicians dance to the melody played by their "hierarchy", the poll will be a mere competition among CPDM members to be nominated and they should be rigorously screened by their party.
The election is also being perceived within the party as a barometer to evaluate the political clout of politicians in their regions in view of an impending party congress where the issue of succession at the helm of the party will be decided.
But that may not be the case for some of the CPDM bigwigs of the North West and South West regions, who have, since the announcement of elections, known to be compiling their documents even when they reside outside their constituencies. Their evidence of "residence" is often ownership of a building in the constituency which they long abandoned and are out of touch with the suffering realities of their supposed constituents.
The irony of it is that some of the CDPM bigwigs of the North West and South West regions have since the announcement of elections known to be compiling their documents.
Will municipal and regional councillors, who will cast their ballots, support such absentee representatives with their votes? How many of the current senators canvassing to be returned have attended council meetings in their regions since they are principally representing councils in parliament as stipulated by law?
The Guardian Post is aware that the CPDM leadership screens its candidates before their files are submitted at ELECAM. We urge the party to disqualify all those who are not resident in their constituencies and advice Divisional Officers, DOs, who are responsible for issuing receipts to attest to such residence to comply with the law.
If as President Biya said the senatorial election “reflects progress in the decentralised territorial communities”, those who the party presents for its one horse race should be seen to represent their people and the first proof should be effective residence in the regions.