Cameroon went to the polls to elect a new parliament on Monday. Observers say the chances of political change are slight and confidence in the electoral process at a low ebb.
Cameroon's fractured opposition has barely no chance of winning the September 30 parliamentary elections. Not only are they in disarray, they also face a very powerful opponent in the ruling party - Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (RPDC).
In the last elections in 2007 the RPDC won 157 of the 180 seats in the National Assembly.
The opposition also had scant chance of victory four years later at the presidential election in December 2011.
Paul Biya was re-elected for the sixth time in a row, despite irregularities. The opposition was criticized for failing to agree on a single candidate. Twenty two candidates ran against Biya.
Local and foreign observers say the opposition suffers from structural weakness and democracy in the country is feeble.
Mathias Eric Owona Nguini is a political scientist at the University of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. He said that although multiple parties are able to participate in the poll, the elections themselves are not really democratic. Nguini added that there have been reports of voter cards being faked, of electoral boundaries being drawn unfairly, and of the electoral authorities displaying questionable impartiality. Shortly before the polls, a ban was imposed on political gatherings.
Nguini believes the international community should put more pressure on the country in order to bring about more democracy, in particular with regard to the elections and the democratic process. "Unfortunately, the international community does not necessarily check whether promises to strengthen democracy have actually been implemented," the political scientist said. "It usually only acts in the event of open conflict."
Respect for human rights neglected
Andreas Mehler, an expert on Africa at the GIGA Institute (Leibniz Institute of Global and Area Studies) in Hamburg, believes the international community needs to maintain a stronger presence in Cameroon.
He said the global community seems reluctant to engage in Cameroon because it views the country as an anchor of political stability in the region.
Mehler finds fault with this approach saying it has had a negative impact on the respect for human rights in Cameroon. "The issue of human rights cannot just be left to human rights organizations, this is where governments need to be at the forefront," Mehler said.
However, Mehler believes it is the duty of the Cameroonian people to demand change. "Pressure for more democracy must come from the people themselves, others can only offer their support," he said.
Critics stay silent
One reason why there is so little demand for political change from the population could be because the government has been quick to silence dissent.
The rights group Amnesty International said political opponents in Cameroon are repeatedly harassed and overwhelmed with legal proceedings until they fall silent.
Often they must defend themselves against allegations of corruption, or they are accused of homosexuality, which is prohibited by law in Cameroon.
Even in his own party, the RDPC, President Paul Biya always takes care to suppress anyone he views as being too ambitious.
Nonetheless the ruling party has been hit by a wave of discontent recently. The stringent selection procedure for parliamentary candidates has thwarted many a poliitcal career. Andreas Mehler thinks that precisely this dissatisfaction could give fresh impetus to democratization within the ruling party.