At 20, the Social Democratic Front is almost a shadow of the popular party of the early 1990s.Ni John Fru Ndi's Social Democratic Front (SDF) remains the leading opposition political party in Cameroon since creation on May 26, 1990. Upon creation, Cameroonians embraced the SDF with the conviction that it was going to change their lives for the better.
Despite the massive support, the party missed the first test of popularity and possible accession to power when it boycotted the first multiparty legislative elections of March 1992. Certainly many Cameroonians who had been yearning for political alternation, voted for the other opposition political parties such as the National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP), Union des populations du Cameroun (UPC) that went in for the elections, making it impossible for President Biya's ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) to win an absolute majority in the 180-member National Assembly. The CPDM won 88 seats and had to create alliances with UPC and MDR opposition political parties.
Although the SDF disappointed many by boycotting the March 1992 legislative election, the party's popularity and prominence was showcased in the October presidential election of the same year. John Fru Ndi, the SDF candidate won 35.9 percent of the votes cast, coming second after incumbent, Paul Biya, the CPDM candidate. Fru Ndi in assessing the SDF after 20 years said, "The SDF was a mass party 20 years ago with people who joined because they were frustrated". From the October 1992 presidential election, the SDF has consistently maintained its second position and incontestably the leading opposition political party in Cameroon. It won 62 councils in the municipal election of January 21, 1996, 43 seats in the legislative election of May 17, 1997. In ensuing elections the SDF's performance has kept on dwindling. This is testified in the twin legislative and council elections of June 30, 2002 in which the party won 22 seats in the National Assembly and 30 councils. Its score in the October 2004 presidential election dropped to 17.4 percent of the votes cast. In the ongoing eighth legislative period of the National Assembly, the SDF has only 16 seats and controlling not up to 20 councils. Maigari Belo Bouba's National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP), the third strongest political party in the country today, has only six seats in the National Assembly.
SDF National Chairman says, "20 years after, the SDF is mature with militants who are guided by conviction", and added that "today, gamblers who belonged because they wanted positions in the SDF have fallen by the wayside". Fru Ndi's statement somehow, justifies the dismal performance of the SDF. He indirectly alludes to the stringent disciplinary sanctions on party militants that have caused the departure of a good number of the country's political icons from the SDF. Not only have these people, some of whom are the founding fathers of the SDF, left the party, they have more importantly carried away thousands of supporters. Barrister Bernard Muna, Fru Ndi's campaign manager in the October 1992 presidential election is a glaring example. He first of all led a faction of the SDF following disputes during the party's May 26, 2006 convention. He finally created the Alliance of Progressive Forces (APF) with leaders and supporters being the yesteryears supporters of the SDF. The SDF inflexibility on certain national issues, persistent boycott of elections such as the March 1992 legislative and October 1997 presidential elections have further tarnished the party's reputation and weakened its position.
The way forward for the SDF would probably be to adopt a new approach in co-habitation among Cameroonians, carry out internal reforms, put in place a political programme that entices the population and adapt to the constantly evolving political climate and even alternation in leadership.