Cameroon opposition: Vote marred by irregularities

AP News
Posted: Oct 10, 2011 8:42 AM
Cameroon opposition: Vote marred by irregularities

Opposition candidates on Monday alleged widespread fraud and intimidation at polling stations, a day after voters cast ballots in an election widely expected to hand another term to one of Africa's longest ruling leaders.

President Paul Biya, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, changed the constitution so he could run again this year. The inevitability of the election's outcome dampened turnout considerably, though opposition candidates also charged their supporters were chased from polling stations.

Momo Jean de Dieu, one of nearly two dozen candidates challenging the incumbent, said he had received reports of ballot boxes not being properly sealed, implying they could be stuffed. Ballots were missing from some polling stations as well, he said.

Another candidate, Albert Dzongang, said he could not even vote for himself because his name was not found on voter lists.

"I don't know why my name, and that of my wife, were erased from the list," he said. "To be a candidate in Cameroon, you must be eligible to vote first. So I don't know how my candidature was approved when I am not an eligible voter."

Biya, 78, dismissed the criticisms in an interview with state radio, saying "perfection is not of this world."

"We must be tolerant with (elections body) ELECAM regarding eventual flaws," he said. "But there was never intention to fraud. We are for transparent and free elections."

Poll workers used candles and the light from cellular phones to count ballots late into the night Sunday. Results are not due until later this month, though candidates now have three days to lodge complaints at the Supreme Court. The announcement could come sooner if the court rules on any petitions filed.

Only the Supreme Court is allowed to declare a winner, a move opposition party leaders say is a well-calculated strategy to avoid the postelection chaos in Ivory Coast, where the initial results were quickly overturned by officials loyal to the country's incumbent leader who refused to concede defeat. The standoff led to months of bloody conflict that left thousands dead.

Cameroonian opposition candidate Anicet Ekane said the decision in May to strip the elections management body ELECAM of the ability to announce election results is an indication that Biya lacks trust in the body.

"He is scared ELECAM could play a fast one on him," Ekane said. It also indicates that Biya will do everything humanly possible to cling to power. He exercises extensive control over the judiciary, and the Supreme Court is at his beck and call."

Food and living costs continue to spiral in Cameroon, and unemployment has reached a crushing 60 percent, according to government statistics.

However, Cameroonians largely stayed away from the polls after Biya eliminated term limits from the constitution to pave the way for another seven-year term. A front-page headline on the Monday edition of the independent French-language daily, Mutations, reads: "2011 Presidential Election; The Victory of Abstention."

"Cameroonians massively abstained because they have understood over time that their votes don't count and that Mr. Biya decides on the percentages to be shared among the candidates," Franklin Nyamsi, a Cameroonian-born lecturer at the University of Rouen in France told The Associated Press early Monday by phone.

Sunday's vote was mostly peaceful, though a government minister said gunmen killed two Cameroonian troops in the volatile Bakassi peninsula who were helping to secure the area on election day.

The Bakassi peninsula had been a disputed territory between Cameroon and Nigeria for 15 years, until a 2002 verdict of the International Court of Justice declared the area part of Cameroon. But armed splinter groups still disputing Cameroon's authority in the territory have persistently clashed.


Associated Press writer Emmanuel Tumanjong in Yaounde, Cameroon contributed to this report.