One of the world’s oldest and longest serving ruler, President Paul Biya and his Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement looks favoured to consolidate power as Cameroonians voted Sunday in polls overshadowed by a partial opposition boycott and separatist violence that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Legislative and Local council elections for the central African country are taking place for the first time in seven years, after two postponements, and they are unlikely to ruffle the enduring rule of 86 years old President Paul Biya, who has held a tight grip on power for 37 years.
As voting began large numbers of police and soldiers were seen deployed on the streets of Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region, one of two provinces gripped by bloody separatist violence.
Most of the morning’s voting appeared to have been done by members of the security forces, deployed to keep the peace, reports AFP.
The main opposition party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) is refusing to field a single candidate.
The boycott will all but guarantee a crushing victory for the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC in its French initials), which in the outgoing legislature had 148 out of 180 seats.
The other large opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), which currently has 18 seats, will take part in Sunday’s vote, going back on its earlier threat to snub it.
In the capital Yaounde, it appeared that enthusiasm for the vote was subdued, with no crowds outside polling stations in the district of Briqueterie.
“People went to mass first, there’ll be more coming in the afternoon,” said one election official.
In the two English-speaking regions — the southwest and northwest — the armed forces are battling separatists who want to secede from the majority French-speaking country.
The conflict has claimed more than 3,000 lives and caused more than 700,000 people to flee since it began over two years ago, according to tolls compiled by NGOs.
Amnesty International said there has been a “surge in violence” by the Cameroon military in the weeks leading up to the vote, resulting in killings and the displacement of thousands in the English-speaking regions.
“In recent weeks, brutal military operations have been conducted while crimes committed by armed separatists continue unabated. Civilians are finding themselves trapped in a spiral of violence,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty’s Lake Chad Researcher.
Similar worries are being voiced for the safety of polling stations in Cameroon’s Far North region, which has been battered by Boko Haram jihadists crossing from Nigeria.
The government on Friday announced that all of Cameroon’s borders would be closed until Monday, and shops and drink outlets had to close on polling day.
MRC leader, Maurice Kamto, spent nine months in jail after his defeat in 2018 presidential elections and is now abroad.