Under the constitution of 1996, Cameroon is a unitary republic with an executive president as head of state. Before the constitutional amendment of April 2008, presidential terms were seven years with a maximum of two terms. However, in that month the National Assembly approved an amendment that removed presidential term limits. The president is elected by popular vote.
The president appoints the prime minister, and appoints the cabinet from proposals submitted by the prime minister. The prime minister is head of government, and the government is responsible to the national assembly. The president also appoints the provincial governors, the judges and government delegates in main towns.
The unicameral National Assembly has 180 members elected by universal adult suffrage every five years. It has three sessions a year. The president can either lengthen or shorten the term of the legislature.
The constitution provides for an upper house, the Senate, with 30 per cent of its members nominated by the president and 70 per cent directly elected every five years. However, as of 2012, the Senate is yet to be established.
Since July 2005, when the very different penal codes in force in the francophone and anglophone regions of Cameroon were unified, there has been substantial investment into updating and expanding the judicial system. The system is presided over by the Supreme Court and comprises high courts, courts of appeal, military tribunals and courts of first instance. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president. The High Court of Justice, by contrast, is made up of nine judges and six substitute judges, who are elected by the National Assembly.
Although the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by Cameroon’s constitution, the Supreme Court comes under the Ministry of Justice.
Cameroon became a German protectorate in 1884, but Germany was deprived of this territory in 1916. After the First World War the country was divided into two zones; the western zone was henceforth to be administered by the British under the mandate of the League of Nations, and the remaining four-fifths of the country were placed under French administration. By 1957 the country had won partial independence from the European colonial powers. In January 1960 Cameroon became fully independent. French and British Cameroon were unified in 1961, thus creating the modern unified nation-state of Cameroon.
The constitution of Cameroon was approved by referendum in 1972 and adopted in the same year. It was revised in January 1996 and it was subsequently amended in April 2008.
Between 1960 and 1982 Cameroon was ruled by President Ahmadou Ahidjo; in 1982 Paul Biya took office as president.
The military in Cameroon has never undertaken a successful coup d’état.
Multiple political parties became legal in 1990. In the 1992 general elections forty-eight parties took part. The Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won more seats than the other parties, and formed a coalition government with the Movement for the Defence of the Republic. In the general elections of 1997 the CPDM won a parliamentary majority, which it then increased in the general elections of 2002 and 2007.
In the presidential elections of 1992 Paul Biya of the CPDM was re-elected with 40 per cent of the votes. He was re-elected in landslide victories in 1997, 2004 and 2011.