Cameroonian political parties have crisscrossed the country ahead of the presidential elections on Sunday. Except for one candidate, no one has been able to organize campaigns in the restive Anglophone regions.
Eight candidates representing a string of opposition parties are vying to oust 85-year-old incumbent President Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon since 1982 and is also seeking a seventh term.
But unrest in most parts of the country has triggered a serious refugee crisis, forcing thousands of residents to flee to neighboring Nigeria.
On Thursday, President Paul Biya’s campaign team came under gun fire as their convoy was driving top speed through the main highway into Buea, capital of the English-speaking southwest region.
Several supporters of the ruling CPDM party were injured in the gunfire exchange between government troops and armed separatists. Biya himself was not part of the Buea campaign convoy. One of Biya’s party official Gerald Ngalla told DW that “the president was worried that his presence in Buea could lead to further bloodshed.”
Credible elections “impossible”
Prince Ekosso, head of the United Socialist Democratic Party, believes the election will be flawed. “It is impossible for credible elections to take place in the northwest and the southwest,” Ekosso said.
Ekosso’s party, which had maintained a traditional support base in the south, could not hold any rally in the restive region, due to threats by the separatists, who have vowed to stop the elections in the Anglophone areas. “As a matter of fact, the towns and cities of the northwest and the southwest have been deserted,” Ekosso said.
He added that: “It’s already late now for anything to be done for free and fair elections to take place in the two regions.”
Opposition candidates have also been avoiding the restive regions too. FDP candidate Akere Muna was travelling through the English-speaking town of Mutengene and was chased by angry protesters. Four civilians were killed.
Last week, eight CPDM supporters who were planning a campaign rally in Bamenda were kidnapped from a hotel and have not been seen since then.
Around 246,000 people have been displaced in the southwest, according to the UN, while no estimate exists for the northwest region which is largely inaccessible to aid groups and journalists.
Some 25,000 others are sheltering in neighboring Nigeria, according to the UN. In the face of continuing clashes, a surge of troops is planned, according to a senior official.
Elecam has also said that some polling stations will be “relocated” in the Anglophone region which has traditionally been a reliable well of votes for the main opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF) whose candidate is Joshua Osih.
He has described the planned “relocations” in interviews as “an illegal measure” that could damage his chances.