Polls open in Cameroon vote overshadowed by violence, boycott
Feb. 09, 2020
Main opposition party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC), is refusing to field a single candidate.
Polls have opened in Cameroon elections overshadowed by separatist violence, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and a partial opposition boycott.
Elections for the central African country's legislature and local councils are taking place for the first time in seven years, after two postponements.
Nearly seven million people are eligible to cast ballots on Sunday, with polls closing at 17:00 GMT. Official results are expected within 20 days.
Despite the delays, campaigning has been low key.
In the capital Yaounde, the few banners put up by the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (RDPC in its French initials) are barely more numerous than posters calling on people to pick up their litter.
The RDPC supports President Paul Biya, one of the world's oldest and longest-serving leaders, who has ruled the couyntry for 37 of his 86 years.
The main opposition party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) is refusing to field a single candidate.
Its leader, Maurice Kamto, who spent nine months in jail after his defeat in 2018 presidential elections and is now abroad, has called for a boycott of the elections.
"Kamto says the security situation in the English-speaking region - the northwest and southwest regions - makes it unable to have a credible election," said Al Jazeera's Nicolas Haque.
Speaking from Douala, Cameroon's biggest city and economic hub, Haque said there were no long queues outside the polling stations.
" Separatists from the English-speaking region have not only called for a boycott but have also attacked those who have been campaigning as well as election commission officials," he said. "As all of this unfolds, the country is on lockdown, with airports shut down and borders closed."
The boycott will all but guarantee a crushing victory for the RDPC, which in the outgoing legislature had 148 out of 180 seats.
"Where's the opposition?" was the whimsical question aired by a local RDPC chief, Augustin Tsafack, on the sidelines of a party rally in Yaounde.
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 a threat to snub it.
Municipal elections will also take place, something that has excited most media interest given the seemingly inevitable outcome of the legislative vote.
Some cities, including Douala, could swing to the opposition, according to some forecasts.
City chiefs are to gain powers under measures taken in December to decentralise some authority out of Yaounde.
The reforms have been triggered by the Anglophone crisis although they fall far short of meeting the separatists' demands.
"Things are going to change," he said. "Mayors who aren't ready will pay the price."
Haque said this is an important election for the government of Cameroon, with about 1000 candidates running.
"Despite the calls for boycott from the main opposition figure and some of the separatists, there are many young people, young candidates who are taking part in this election hoping to be the change that many had hoped would come from the political elite," he said.