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World > Africa > Cameroon > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Cameroon - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The 1972 constitution as modified by 1996 reforms provides for a strong central government dominated by the executive. The president is empowered to name and dismiss cabinet members, judges, generals, provincial governors, prefects, sub-prefects, and heads of Cameroon's parastatal (about 100 state-controlled) firms, obligate or disburse expenditures, approve or veto regulations, declare states of emergency, and appropriate and spend profits of parastatal firms. The president is not required to consult the National Assembly.

The judiciary is subordinate to the executive branch's Ministry of Justice. The Supreme Court may review the constitutionality of a law only at the president's request.

The 180-member National Assembly meets in ordinary session three times a year (March-April, June-July, and November-December), and has seldom, until recently, made major changes in legislation proposed by the executive. Laws are adopted by majority vote of members present or, if the president demands a second reading, of a total membership.

Following government pledges to reform the strongly centralized 1972 constitution, the National Assembly adopted a number of amendments in December 1995, which were promulgated in a new constitution in January 1996. The amendments call for the establishment of a 100-member Senate as part of a bicameral legislature, the creation of regional councils, and the fixing of the presidential term to 7 years, renewable once. One-third of senators are to be appointed by the president, and the remaining two-thirds are to be chosen by indirect elections. As of September 2005, the government had not established the Senate or regional councils.

All local government officials are employees of the central government's Ministry of Territorial Administration, from which local governments also get most of their budgets.

While the president, the minister of justice, and the president's judicial advisers (the Supreme Court) top the judicial hierarchy, traditional rulers, courts, and councils also exercise functions of government. Traditional courts still play a major role in domestic, property, and probate law. Tribal laws and customs are honored in the formal court system when not in conflict with national law. Traditional rulers receive stipends from the national government.

The government adopted legislation in 1990 to authorize the formation of multiple political parties and ease restrictions on forming civil associations and private newspapers. Cameroon's first multiparty legislative and presidential elections were held in 1992 followed by municipal elections in 1996 and another round of legislative and presidential elections in 1997. Because the government refused to consider opposition demands for an independent election commission, the three major opposition parties boycotted the October 1997 presidential election, which Biya easily won. All of these elections were marred by severe irregularities. In December 2000, the National Assembly passed legislation creating the National Elections Observatory (NEO), an election watchdog body. NEO played an active role in supervising the conduct of local and legislative elections in June 2002, which demonstrated some progress but were still hampered by irregularities. The NEO also supervised the conduct of the presidential election in October 2004 as did many diplomatic missions, including the US Embassy. NEO reported that it was satisfied with the conduct of the election but noted some irregularities and problems with voter registration. The US Embassy also noted these issues with the election, as well as reports of non-indelible ink, but concluded that the irregularities were not severe enough to impact the final result. The incumbent, Paul Biya, was re-elected with 70.92 per cent of the vote. Cameroon has a number of independent newspapers. Censorship was abolished in 1996, but the government sometimes seizes or suspends newspapers. Mutation, the only private daily newspaper in Cameroon, was seized on April 14, 2003 after the paper published articles on 'Life after Biya.' Occasionally the government arrests journalists.

Radio and television continue to be a virtual monopoly of the state-owned broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio-Television Corporation (CRTV), despite the effective liberalization of radio and television in 2000. Since the issuance of the decree authorizing the creation of private radio and television on April 3, 2000, not a single station has received a license from the government, though many have applied and are currently operating while their applications are pending. There are some 15 such private radio stations broadcasting in Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam, Bamenda, and Limbe; their existence is tolerated by the government. Magic FM, a private radio station in Yaounde, and a Voice of America (VOA) affiliate, was shut down in 2003 after carrying controversial reports and critical commentaries on the regime, but was later reopened. There are a dozen community radio stations supported by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which are exempted from licenses and have no political content. Radio coverage extends to about 80% of the country, while television covers 60% of the territory. The sole private television station--TV Max--broadcasts only in the economic capital of Douala.

The Cameroonian Government's human rights record has been improving over the years but remains flawed. There continue to be reported abuses, including beatings of detainees, arbitrary arrests, and illegal searches. The judiciary is frequently corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political influence.

Principal Government Officials
President--Paul Biya
President of the National Assembly--Djibril Cavaye Yeguie
Prime Minister--Ephraim Inoni
Ambassador to the United States--Jerome Mendouga
Ambassador to the United Nations--Martin Belinga

Cameroon maintains an embassy in the United States at 2349 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.: 202-265-8790).


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