Sunday, July 7, 2013

1997 Presidential Election Boycott by SDF was Biggest Blunder, Dr. Susungi Explains Why

Dr. Nfor N Susungi: The Great Mind
By  Dr. Nfor N Susungi
In 1992, the SDF boycotted the parliamentary elections charging that the election would be rigged. But in the same year, the SDF put up John Fru Ndi as its Presidential candidate and the outcome is known to everybody. That is all water under the bridge. But five years later in 1997, the context was different. We launched NESPROG as the party’s economic platform for the parliamentary and Presidential elections. Riding on a NESPROG wave we campaigned for the party throughout the country in May and June 1997 from Kouserri to Moloundou and from Garoua Boulai to Wum.
When the parliamentary elections were held, we monitored the results from the SDF Headquarters in Bamenda until it was finally announced that the SDF had won 42 seats in the National Assembly. There were lots of irregularities throughout the country. A meeting held in the residence of Mr. Philip Che in Yaoundé resulted in the issuing of the “Yaoundé Proclamation” drafted by the Late François Sengat Kouo, President Ahidjo’s former Minister of Information who had been convinced to join the SDF by the Late Dr. Martin Ngeka Luma. The Yaoundé Proclamation was a document lacking any teeth. It was full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.
When the National Assembly was convened, there was an intense debate at the grassroots level as to whether the 42 SDF MPs should take their seats in the semicircle. The popular view was that the SDF should stay away from the National Assembly in protest. Naturally, the elected MPs wanted to take their seats in the National Assembly. As pressure mounted on both sides, the Chairman finally ruled that the SDF MPs shall take their seats in the National Assembly and act as an Opposition. No quid pro quo was negotiated in order to arrive at that position. When the National Assembly convened, SDF MPs were elected to positions in the Bureau of the National Assembly and the SDF with its 42 MPs qualified to elect a Chairman of the SDF Parliamentary Group. 
However, when the National Assembly discussed the Finance Law (the National Budget), the SDF MPs took an active part in questioning the various Ministers that were asked to testify before the National Assembly. I sat in the visitors’ gallery and watched as the Minister of Finance came to explain his budget to the law makers. However, when the moment came to vote on the budget itself, the SDF MPs walked out. This is how it continued throughout the life of that Legislature. But following the adoption of the Finance Law the MPs would accept the payment of their salaries, allowances and allocations for development in their constituencies. That is the type of Opposition role that the SDF MPs played in the National Assembly.
The CPDM made tentative moves to hold negotiations with the SDF in order to find common ground which will enable the Presidential elections to be held in a more peaceful environment. The SDF did send a delegation to Yaoundé to hold talks. But the terms of reference of this delegation were not clear. The advice which I gave the Chairman privately was that after seating the SDF in the National Assembly and controlling Councils and Municipalities throughout the country, the SDF was effectively in power-sharing with the CPDM. The best way forward was to negotiate with the CPDM government for around 25-30% of Ministerial positions, Governorships, Prefets, sous-prefets and even Ambassadors. I made this suggestion because I believed that once you are inside the system, you will be there when critical and key decisions are being made. You will no longer be outside looking in. My suggestion was rejected because there were people who believed that once the presidential election is free and fair, the SDF would win and take over the whole government. 
When the Presidential elections were announced in October 1997, there was a much tension and discussion on whether the SDF should participate or not. The same kind of debate was fuelled by suspicion that the vote would not be free and fair. The debate focused on the matter of single bulletin versus multiple bulletins. The SDF wanted the introduction of single bulletins and a two round balloting until the winner can obtain at least 50% +1 vote victory. The insistence on the two round ballot was based on the fact that in 1992, President Paul Biya had been declared the winner even though he had not won by an absolute majority (i.e. >50% +1). When the SDF failed to get that concession from the Ministry of Territorial Administration which was responsible for conducting elections, the Chairman decided to boycott the Presidential election of 1997. As a result, the election was a complete walk-over for President Paul Biya who won by an overwhelming majority.
The SDF was now faced with the irony that it boycotted the parliamentary elections of 1992 and participated in the Presidential elections of that year. But in 1997 the SDF did the reverse. It participated in the parliamentary elections and boycotted the Presidential election.
This is what has destroyed the SDF as a political force. The electorate was completely disillusioned. This time around the result was catastrophic because the Presidential term of office was now 7 years. That meant that the next election would only take place in 2004. That was enough time for the CPDM to do damage control throughout the country. The CPDM was so successful that when the next legislative elections took place in 2002, the SDF lost nearly 50% of its seats in the country. The electorate had lost trust in the SDF.
The progressive disintegration of the SDF was the direct result of the mistake of failing to heed the advice of entering into government with a minority position in 1997 and eventually failing to participate in the presidential election of 1997 because the party was displeased with the rules of the game. After the Presidential elections of 1997, President Paul Biya won by a land-slide without having to rig the vote. He no longer needed to share power with a party which had turned down overtures to come into the government. That is how the SDF as a political party was now held hostage by its MPs in the National Assembly because they were earning incomes as MPs. They became the only party members that were listened to. If the SDF had entered into power-sharing with the government, it would have changed the entire game.
During the SDF convention held in Yaoundé at the Congress hall in 1999, the John Fru Ndi first had to resign his position and become an ordinary member of NW delegation because the mandates of the entire party hierarchy had expired. He was challenged for the position of Chairman by Chrétien Tabetsing from SDF France. John Fru Ndi was reelected as Party Chairman, but his reputation had become dented because he did not bring victory to the party. 
Other key people in the party hierarchy either did not stand for reelection or were defeated. It is to be noted that Dr. Kevin Ngwang Gumne who was the Chairman of the Economic and Finance Commission of the SDF decided to stand down. Many people thought that I would become a candidate to replace him. But I was never interested in holding an elected position in the SDF. I had joined the SDF as Economic Advisor. I always wanted to remain free so that I can think freely. If my advice was needed, I would be there. Once I felt that my advice was no longer useful, I did not want to be held back by party statutory obligations. Dr. Gumne is now the Chairman of SCAPO (Southern Cameroons Peoples’ Organization). Dr. Luma had quit the party over a row over the Southern Cameroons issue to become the Chairman of the SCNC. Mr. Nfor Ngala Nfor who had been the Chairman of the Political and Constitutional Affairs Commission of the SDF, was voted out of that position in Yaoundé. He is now the Vice Chairman of the SCNC. Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi who had been the Secretary General of the SDF for over a decade also resigned. Prof. Ngwasiri a founding member of the SDF passed away. Prof. Carlson Anyangwe also a founding member of the SDF had long left the SDF to devote his energies to the Southern Cameroons movement. Mola Njoh Litumbe who had formed and operated the LDA and contested parliamentary elections on that political platform abandoned such pursuits and is now an advocate of the Southern Cameroons cause.
It can be seen that the failure of the SDF to gain a foothold in power is largely responsible for the growth of the SCNC. This is now a big problem for everybody including the government itself.
It is against this background that I left active involvement in politics to
go back into the business world. Destination: Nigeria in 2000.
I took the time to show all of you the painful process of democratic evangelization which we undertook in 1997. The purpose was to let the youth understand how far we have come and to underscore the fact that each election leads to incremental improvement in our democracy. We cannot achieve the absolute in one fell swoop. 
The legislative elections that have been announced for 30 September 2013 will be conducted by Elecam, a body which did not exist in 1997. Elecam has conducted voter registration which has resulted in the issuing of biometric voting card cards. Let us wish good luck to the country in September 2013 because no one would like to see the type of scenes taking place in Egypt on Cameroonian streets.


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