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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07YAOUNDE1479
2007-12-19 08:58:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Yaounde
Cable title:  

CAMEROON: IS BIYA PREPARING TO CHANGE THE

Tags:   CM  PGOV  PINR  PREL  SOCI 
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VZCZCXRO5429
PP RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHTRO
DE RUEHYD #1479/01 3530858
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 190858Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8423
INFO RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE PRIORITY 0052
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 YAOUNDE 001479 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/C AND AF/PD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2017
TAGS: CM PGOV PINR PREL SOCI
SUBJECT: CAMEROON: IS BIYA PREPARING TO CHANGE THE
CONSTITUTION FOR A THIRD TERM?

REF: (A) YAOUNDE 1308 (B) YAOUNDE 865

Classified By: Poloff Linnisa Wahid for reasons (1.4.b & d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 YAOUNDE 001479

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/C AND AF/PD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2017
TAGS: CM PGOV PINR PREL SOCI
SUBJECT: CAMEROON: IS BIYA PREPARING TO CHANGE THE
CONSTITUTION FOR A THIRD TERM?

REF: (A) YAOUNDE 1308 (B) YAOUNDE 865

Classified By: Poloff Linnisa Wahid for reasons (1.4.b & d)


1. (U) This is an action message (see para 9).


2. (C) Summary. Almost immediately after President Paul
Biya returned from his October 26 meeting with French
President Nicholas Sarkozy, officials at all levels of the
ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) began
calling for a constitutional amendment to remove term limits.
Such an amendment would allow Biya to stay in power beyond
2011, which will mark the end of his second seven-year term
under the current constitution. Key ministers, including the
Ministers of Finance and Special Duties at the Presidency,
joined the chorus of support for changing the constitution,
which could be done with a simple majority vote in the
National Assembly (where the CPDM has an overwhelming
majority). Biya has deflected questions about the issue,
perhaps in an effort to keep people guessing and preserve his
power in the final years of his current presidential term.
While there have been some voices in opposition to an
amendment, overall public apathy and a weak civil society
would make it relatively easy for President Biya to seek a
third term. USG pressure at this time could help impact
Biya's decisionmaking. End Summary.

Background
--------------


3. (U) Section 6 of the 1996 Constitution states that the
president is elected for one term of seven years and is
eligible for re-election once. Although he has been in power
for 25 years, President Biya was elected under the new
constitution in 1997 and reelected in 2004, therefore making
him ineligible to seek a third term. When asked about the
2011 elections during an October 30 France24 interview on his
recent trip to Paris, Biya stated that the 2011 presidential
elections were certain; however, he considered them to be far
in the future, adding that Cameroon has other priorities such

as the fight against corruption, HIV/AIDS and poverty and
that questions about the 2011 elections were premature (ref
A).

Ruling Party Calls for Amendment
--------------


4. (SBU) Immediately after Biya's interview and the November
6 nationwide celebration of Biya's 25 years as president,
regional bodies of the ruling CPDM throughout the country
began calling for a constitutional amendment to remove the
presidential term limits. On December 4, the CPDM Central
Committee formally endorsed their appeals. A number of
ministers have also voiced their support, including the
Minister of Finance and the Minister of Special Duties.

Some Voices in Opposition
--------------


5. (SBU) Some CPDM members, opposition party leaders, NGO
officials, the independent media and others in civil society
have openly opposed amending the constitution. Hilaire
Kamga, a prominent civil society leader, told Poloff that if
there were a referendum to amend the term limits of the
president, President Biya would &suffer the worst defeat of
his life8. Kamga added that that civil society was using
petitions and campaigns to oppose amending the constitution.
He stated that so far there were about 9,000 signatures on
petitions opposing an amendment. Another civil society
leader, Pauline Biyong, President of the "Patriotic Citizens
Collectives" began a campaign entitled "Don't Touch My
Constitution," encouraging Cameroonians to focus on President
Biya's own stated priorities of fighting against corruption,
HIV/AIDS and poverty instead of focusing on changing the
constitution. The Sultan of Bamoun, an important traditional
leader, also publicly opposed a constitutional amendment to
benefit one person.


6. (SBU) In a December 12 newspaper article, outspoken CPDM
parliamentarian, Adamou Modi, stated that he would mobilize
forces and encourage them to vote against an amendment to the
constitution. He said that many members of the National
Assembly agreed with him, although he thought "they are not
bold enough to voice their opposition". Modi is well known
for publicly voicing his opposition to the reelection of the
President of the National Assembly, CPDM representative
Cavaye Yeguie Djibril. Former Minister of Education and key
architect of the 1996 Constitution, Professor Joseph Owona,
reportedly stormed out of a CPDM Central Committee meeting
arguing that any genuine desire for a constitutional

YAOUNDE 00001479 002 OF 003


amendment should come from the people.

Next Steps
--------------


7. (SBU) In a December 10 meeting with Poloff, Deputy
President of the Constitutional Committee in the National
Assembly Zondol Hersesse outlined three possible scenarios
for amending the constitution to allow Biya to run for a
third presidential term. First, one third of the National
Assembly could propose a bill that would remove the
presidential term limits. The bill would be tabled in the
general body of the National Assembly and would become law
with a simple majority vote, according to Hersesse. Second,
President Biya could propose a bill to the National Assembly
and a simple majority vote would be needed to amend the
constitution. (Note: In the 180-member National Assembly, 153
members belong to the CPDM. End Note.) Third, President Biya,
in consultations with the President of the Constitutional
Council and the President of the National Assembly, could
propose a national referendum. A referendum on an amendment
would need a simple majority of the votes cast to pass.
(Note: The Constitutional Council has not yet been created.
According to Vacancy Laws, the Supreme Court would assume the
Council's duties. End Note.) According to Hersesse the
President has not made a decision on whether to amend the
constitution; he is currently "listening to the people."

Comment
--------------


8. (C) The outpouring of senior government and party support
for changing the constitution is probably an orchestrated
campaign from the top to enhance Biya's effectiveness by
keeping people guessing about his future plans. As President
Biya told former U.S. Ambassador Niels Marquardt, "In
Cameroon anyway, once the people know when you are leaving
or, worse, who will replace you, you will wield no more
power" (ref B). Biya is enigmatic, has allowed more
political pluralism, and may not press the issue at this
time. He deflected the question in his Paris interview and
has said nothing during the debate over the past month. His
close advisors have similarly deflected discussions of the
topic in our private conversations. Biya's support in the
National Assembly is even more overwhelming than it was
before the July/September legislative elections. The
opposition is timid and largely powerless and the public
reaction is cynical or indifferent to the political
situation. The GRC particularly values its relations with
the United States and France. Our efforts to convince Biya
not to change the term limits in the constitution (possibly
working with the French and others), in private meetings and
public settings, if done skillfully, could impact his
decision making at this critical juncture.

Action
--------------


9. (SBU) Post proposes the following talking points to be
used in public comments and private discussions on the issue
of changing the constitution. We would appreciate Department
guidance on these points:

-- I was pleased to hear President Biya say when he was in
France that public attention is best focused on more pressing
concerns than constitutional reform, such as the fight
against corruption, poverty and HIV/AIDS. I think that is
the right focus for Cameroon and is essential to generating
economic growth, strengthening democracy and improving the
lives of all Cameroonians.

-- Ultimately, the decision on whether to amend the
Constitution is for the people and the political process of
Cameroon to decide. Constitutional change requires serious
deliberation and should reflect the input of all elements of
society. Constitutional reform must aim to be for the
benefit of the society as a whole and one should carefully
weigh the long term implications of any proposed change.

-- In principle, every political system stands to benefit
from new leadership and the new ideas it brings. Term limits
and leadership change, at least every decade or so, are
healthy ways to ensure democratic political renewal.








YAOUNDE 00001479 003 OF 003








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