Cameroonians bemused as president race kicks off


Banners emblazoned with the words “Paul Biya: The People’s Choice” adorned Cameroon’s capital city, the only evidence campaigning for an Oct. 9 presidential election has begun.

After 29 years in control of the central African oil-producing country, Paul Biya is widely expected to win another term in the poll, which pits him against the largest field of opposition candidates in Cameroon’s history.
“Why worry myself when I already know the result of the election,” said Nicolas Mbarga, 63, from Yaounde. “You don’t expect the president to organise an election in which he is also candidate and lose.”

Political apathy has deepened under Biya — one of the longest-serving rulers on the continent — and many residents say they have declined to register for the upcoming poll because they can’t imagine a future without him, Reuters reports.

Cameroon has approved 23 candidates for next month’s single-round election, the largest number in the country’s history, which analysts say could give Biya the upper hand by fragmenting the opposition.

But Biya’s critics add his chances are further bolstered by his restructuring of the electoral body, which has been stripped of the right to announce provisional results and whose board is dominated by ruling party members.
“It is true the lack of an independent electoral commission is a disturbing factor, another weakness,” said Marcelin Nguele Abada, a professor at the University of Yaounde.
“But we should also admit that it takes time to build a strong, truly democratic system,” he said, adding that the electoral commission should be “given a chance.”

Among Biya’s chief rivals in the election will be John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front party (SDF), who many Cameroonians believed beat Biya in the 1992 election before the results were revised.

During the campaign, opposition candidates will be given 2.36 minutes on state radio and 5.13 minutes on state television every day. State broadcasters spend nearly all of their air time covering Biya.

The Civil Society Forum for Democracy, a Cameroonian democracy watchdog, said last week it believed “a fair, free and transparent election is inconceivable”.

Biya altered the constitution in 2008 to eliminate term limits, paving the way for him to run again but triggering riots that killed dozens of people.

His fiercest critics say he should be bound by the previous constitution under which he was initially elected and prevented from standing — a call that has been ignored by the Supreme Court.

While public frustration has been mounting in Cameroon over Biya’s slow pace of reform, political analysts have said the greatest threat to stability could be Biya’s departure after nearly three decades of power.

Biya has achieved relative stability in the country, central Africa’s largest economy with a maturing oil sector and vast minerals deposits, while astutely outmanoeuvring rivals and also leaving no clear successor.

Angeline Tamba, a 56-year-old resident of Yaounde, said that is one of the reasons she plans to vote for him.
“We need to vote for him to maintain the peace and stability we’ve enjoyed in this country for so long,” she said. “Paul Biya is the only guarantee.”