Cameroon to allow diaspora to vote in next poll

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Cameroon’s parliament has passed a law allowing its citizens living abroad to vote in this year’s presidential election, meeting a key condition for the main opposition party to take part.

The bill, which was passed late on Saturday and must be signed off by the president, should pave the way for some 2 million to take part in the Central African state’s next election, expected in October.

President Paul Biya, in power for 29 years, is favourite to win re-election but a debate over the 78-year-old’s eligibility is stoking tensions in the oil-producing state, which is Central Africa’s biggest economy.
“This is a major development in our democratisation process and I can assure you the government will take all legal and regulatory measures required for our brothers and sisters in other countries to perform their national duties just like those in the country,” Marafa Hamidou Yaya, a senior minister for territorial administration, told reporters.
“These people, through remittances, have been contributing to the economic development of the nation and there is no reason why they should not also decide who presides over the destiny of their country.”

All five parties in Cameroon’s parliament backed the bill but the main opposition SDF party said it was still concerned about the independence of the body tasked with organising the election, the ELECAM.

The election body, targeting 9 million people, has so far registered 6.5 million to vote, which is already up from around 5 million in the last poll.

The government has estimated the number of registered Cameroonians living abroad at two million but said a thorough census was needed.

The United States in June warned Cameroon against stifling the opposition ahead of the election.

Over 40 people were killed in 2008 when Biya rejigged the constitution to scrap term limits. The current debate centres on whether the 2008 change did in fact annul the previous constitution and free up Biya to stand.

Cameroon has pumped oil for decades, is rich in minerals and has a US$22 billion-a-year economy that is a hub for Central Africa.

But critics argue that corruption and the lack of investment has prevented the country from unlocking its full potential.