Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cameroon opposition wants vote nullified

By Xavier Bourgois

YAOUNDE — Cameroon's opposition on Tuesday demanded the presidential election be nullified, but former colonial ruler France gave a thumbs-up to a poll expected to return Paul Biya, 78, for a sixth term.
The veteran leader has led the west African country for 29 years and the outcome of Sunday's vote was never in doubt but 22 candidates had decided to challenge him nonetheless.

But as votes were still being counted, three contenders, including the party of Biya's perennial opponent John Fru Ndi, said they wanted an election they have described as a "complete mess" declared null and void.
"We are favourable to the vote's annulment," said Joshua Osih, vice chairman of Fru Ndi's Social Democratic Front (SDF). "This election cannot give the winner any legitimacy."

Anicet Ekane, who ran for the Manidem party on Sunday, said: "We are asking for this ballot to be nullified. In fact, we intend to file a request with the supreme court tomorrow," he told AFP.

Sunday's election was marred by widespread delays, irregularities and the deaths of one opposition party worker and two policemen, although violent incidents were rare.
But France, which was Cameroon's former colonial power and played a significant part in Biya's rise to the helm in 1982, saw no egregious violation in the poll.

"According to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, who followed the development of these elections, we can consider that they took place in acceptable conditions," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

Biya is a faithful Paris ally in a country strained by tensions between linguistic communities, notably in the English-speaking south where secessionist groups are active.
Nicknamed "the Sphinx", Biya has managed to keep a tight grip on power for almost three decades despite spending much of his time abroad.
He also skipped most of the campaign and voters trickled to polling stations in small numbers on Sunday, amid widespread rumours that the ruling party had rigged the entire voting process to ensure the incumbent's reelection.

The opposition accused the electoral commission of being under Biya's control and minimising the scope of abstention.
Madeleine Afite, a well-known and respected figure in Cameroon's civil society, said she saw an electoral commission official in Douala dishing out electoral cards to children to boost turnout figures.
"It wasn't to get votes" for the ruling party, she told AFP. "It was because the ballot boxes were empty. It was all about the turnout. They wanted some ballot papers in those boxes."

Recent elections in Zambia brought about a rare peaceful transition of power on the continent and Tuesday's polls in Liberia could return a newly-crowned Nobel Peace Prize, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

But Biya, often described as one of the continent's most corrupt, looked in no danger of failing to join the shrinking club of African autocrats who have been in power 30 years.
He won 70 percent of the vote in 2004 and later moved to scrap term limits, triggering 2008 protests that were fiercely repressed. Rights groups say 139 people were killed.

Cameroon is regularly listed as one of the world's most corrupt states and its 3.2 percent economic growth was among the poorest in its region, despite the country's considerable mineral wealth-AFP

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