Cameroonians head to the polls on Sunday in an election widely expected to extend the 36-year rule of President Paul Biya and confirm his place as one of Africa’s last multi-decade leaders.
A victory for Biya, who has ruled since 1982, would usher in a seventh term for the 85-year-old and see him stay until at least the age of 92, bucking a tentative trend in Africa where many countries have installed presidential term limits. The only current African president to have ruled longer is Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, reports Reuters.
It would maintain a long held status quo in the oil and cocoa producing Central African country where, despite relative economic stability and growth of over 4 per cent a year since Biya was last elected in 2011, many of its 24 million citizens live in deep poverty. Most have only known one president.
Looming over the polls is a secessionist uprising in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions that has cost hundreds of lives and forced thousands to flee either to the French-speaking regions or into neighbouring Nigeria. Ghost towns remain, where the few who have stayed say they are afraid to go out and vote.
Some opposition parties have united in an effort to bolster support and harness discontent about the country’s crumbling infrastructure and about Biya, who they say has ruled Cameroon like a personal fiefdom for too long. The president goes years without convening cabinet meetings and spends long stretches out of the country with his wife Chantal, most often holidaying in Switzerland.
“There are many problems. There are no roads, no hospitals. We are poor. Biya must go,” said 31-year-old businessman Emmanuel Bassong during an opposition rally in the capital Yaounde on Saturday.
The odds, and history, are against the opposition, including the main candidate, Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front. In 2011, Biya won with 78 per cent of the vote in an election that the United States state department described as “flawed” and “marked by irregularities.”
The African Union and other organisations are monitoring Sunday’s vote, but opposition candidates have already complained of efforts to fix the election in Biya’s favour.
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