Most media attention has been focused on Liberia’s election this week, and with good reason. Also in Africa, however, Cameroon recently held presidential elections on Sunday. Opposition leaders demanded the election be nullified, after Paul Biya was reelected to a sixth term. Biya has ruled Cameroon for 29 years. In 2008, he passed a constitutional amendment, which abolished term limits.
Cameroon’s election wasn’t exactly fair, but what I found interesting was the assessment of what I would have thought to be a legitimate Election Observation Mission (EOM):
But France, which was Cameroon’s former colonial power and played a significant part in Biya’s rise to the helm in 1982, saw no egregious violation in the poll.
“According to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, who followed the development of these elections, we can consider that they took place in acceptable conditions,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
If you haven’t already, read Judith Kelley’s great paper, Election Observers and their Biases. It does a great job of exploring the behavior and incentives of EOMs based on a number of criteria. Her main argument is that the assessment of elections is influenced by the mission’s organization, the source of funding, and the host country.
She also discusses the problem that occurs when observers want to reward progress made in a country, but the environment does not warrant a positive assessment. It is in addressing this phenomenon that Kelley notices certain peculiarities in her data. The most striking is the fact that the more violent a pre-election environment is, the more likely observation missions will endorse an otherwise flawed poll. Kelley also touches upon some issues that have been addressed in previous writings, such as the phenomenon where pre-election irregularities are more likely to be ignored by an assessment team than those that occur during the polling process.
I really don’t know Cameroon, or France’s current interest in it, so I’m unsure of if any of these particular findings would explain this strange assessment. But this does fit Susan Hyde’s theory, which concludes that regimes have made the calculation that the presence of election observers has become a signal of democratizing, while the risks of a negative election observation report outweighs the benefits of not inviting any foreign observers. I would say that Paul Biya benefited from allowing an election observation mission, especially one from France.