The President of Cameroon is elected and creates policy, administers government agencies, commands the armed forces, negotiates and ratifies treaties, and declares a state of emergency.
The president appoints government officials at all levels, from the prime minister (considered the official head of government), to the provincial governors and divisional officers. The president is selected by popular vote every seven years.
The National Assembly makes legislation. The body consists of 180 members who are elected for five-year terms and meet three times per year.
Laws are passed on a majority vote. Rarely has the assembly changed or blocked legislation proposed by the president.
The 1996 constitution establishes a second house of parliament, the 100-seat Senate, was established in April 2013 and is headed by a President of the Senate who is the constitutional successor in case of untimely vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic.
The government recognises the authority of traditional chiefs, fons and lamibe to govern at the local level and to resolve disputes as long as such rulings do not conflict with national law.
Cameroon’s legal system is largely based on French civil law with common law influences. Although nominally independent, the judiciary falls under the authority of the executive’s Ministry of Justice.
The president appoints judges at all levels. The judiciary is officially divided into tribunals, the court of appeal, and the supreme court.
The National Assembly elects the members of a nine-member High Court of Justice that judges high-ranking members of government in the event they are charged with high treason or harming national security.
Cameroon is viewed as rife with corruption at all levels of government. In 1997, Cameroon established anti-corruption bureaus in 29 ministries, but only 25% became operational and in 2012, Transparency International placed Cameroon at number 144 on a list of 176 countries ranked from least to most corrupt.
On 18 January 2006, Biya initiated an anti-corruption drive under the direction of the National Anti-Corruption Observatory. There are several high corruption risk areas in Cameroon, for instance, customs, public health sector and public procurement.
Human rights organisations accuse police and military forces of mistreating and even torturing criminal suspects, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and political activists.
Prisons are overcrowded with little access to adequate food and medical facilities and prisons run by traditional rulers in the north are charged with holding political opponents at the behest of the government.
However, since the first decade of the 21st century, an increasing number of police and gendarmes have been prosecuted for improper conduct.
President Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) was the only legal political party until December 1990. Numerous regional political groups have since formed.
The primary opposition is the Social Democratic Front (SDF), based largely in the Anglophone region of the country and headed by John Fru Ndi.
Biya and his party have maintained control of the presidency and the National Assembly in national elections, which rivals contend were unfair.
Human rights organisations allege that the government suppresses the freedoms of opposition groups by preventing demonstrations, disrupting meetings, and arresting opposition leaders and journalists.
In particular, English-speaking people are discriminated against; protests often escalate into violent clashes and killings. In 2017, President Biya shut down the Internet in the English-speaking region for 94 days, at the cost of hampering five million people, including Silicon Mountain startups.
Freedom House ranks Cameroon as “not free” in terms of political rights and civil liberties. The last parliamentary elections were held on 30 September 2013.