Cameroonian President Paul Biya won re-election by a landslide, official results showed, extending his 36-year rule despite claims from leading opposition candidates the vote was fraudulent.
At 85, Biya is the oldest leader in sub-Saharan Africa and the victory cements his place as one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers. Most Cameroonians have known only him as president.
Looming over his victory are allegations of ballot stuffing and intimidation, while turnout was low because of a secessionist uprising in the Anglophone North-west and South-west regions in which hundreds, including unarmed civilians, died over the past year.
Biya won 71% of the vote on a turnout of 54%, according to figures announced by the Constitutional Council. He won strongly in nine of 10 regions, including the South and East where he took more than 90% of the vote. His closest rival, Maurice Kamto, won 14% overall.
“Thank you for your renewed and large confidence,” Biya said on Twitter. “Let us now join in taking up, together, the challenges that confront us.”
The announcement follows two weeks of tension in the coffee- and oil-producing country where, despite economic growth above four percent a year since the last election, most people live in poverty.
Kamto claimed victory for himself on October 8 based on his campaign’s figures and in recent days police silenced opposition marches in the port city Douala where he is popular.
“We solemnly and categorically reject these manufactured results and refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the Head of State,” Kamto said in a statement. “We will use all means of law to restore the truth of the ballot box.”
Third-placed candidate Cabral Libii also rejected the results, saying they did not “reflect reality” in Cameroon.
Authorities defended the voting process. “The election was free, fair and credible in spite of security challenges in the English-speaking regions,” the President of Constitutional Council, Clement Atangana, said.
The secessionist movement began in reaction to a government clampdown on peaceful protests calling for an end to marginalisation of Cameroon’s English-speaking minority. Police killed civilians, sparking further protests.
The army burned villages and killed unarmed civilians, residents told Reuters, forcing thousands to flee to French-speaking regions or neighbouring Nigeria. Ghost towns are all that remain of once vibrant cities in those regions.
Turnout was five percent in North-west and 16% in South-west. In an area of five million English speakers, less than 100,000 voted.
Despite the unrest and a desire among the young for change, the opposition appeared unable to mount a credible challenge to Biya who, despite long absences in Switzerland, kept core support. He benefitted from apathy with many seeing no point in voting.
“I voted for the opposition even though I did not trust them. I wanted anything but Paul Biya,” said Jerome, an unemployed 32-year-old. “My three children will have no future as long as he is there.”
The only current African president to have ruled longer than Biya is Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.