Polls open in Cameroon as President Biya seeks seventh term

Six million to vote against a backdrop of unprecedented violence in the country's English-speaking regions.

    Polls open in Cameroon as President Biya seeks seventh term
    Paul Biya has been in office since 1982 and is hoping for another seven-year term [Sunday Alamba/AP]

    Polls have opened in Cameroon with President Paul Biya seeking a seventh term.

    Polling stations opened at 8am (07:00GMT) and will close at 6pm (17:00GMT) with more than six million people eligible to cast their ballots.

    Biya, 85, faces an attempt by the opposition parties to forge a unified front under Maurice Kamto, leader of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC). Biya has been in power since 1982, making him one of Africa's longest-serving rulers.

    Al Jazeera's Hiba Morgan reporting from the capital, Yaounde said many voters were staying away from polling stations.

    "Not many voters have showed up at the polling station where the president is expected to cast his vote shortly. Election observers and officials we spoke to have also told us they are not seeing a high voter turnout in other parts of the country." Morgan said. 

    Violent campaign

    The election campaign was marked by violent clashes between security officials and opposition party supporters.

    The growing fight over language in an officially bilingual country has killed hundreds of people and sent more than 200,000 people fleeing Cameroon's southwest and northwest regions.

    Officials check ballot boxes before distributing them to polling stations for Sunday's presidential election in Yaounde [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

    Soldiers have been deployed after separatists threatened to disrupt voting in the English-speaking areas.

    The violence was mostly reported from the opposition strongholds, where people had to flee their homes. Many who have been left behind have threatened to boycott the polls.

    But the electoral commission said the polls will go ahead as scheduled, adding that some polling stations could be "relocated" to ensure a fair election.

    Many election observers groups, including the African Union, have decided to skip the restive southwest and northwest regions.

    Last month, religious leaders in Cameroon warned of a spike in violence, and appealed to both the military and armed groups to drop their guns.

    The government, however, says only the separatists should drop their guns.

    In the north of the country, more than 230,000 people have been displaced as soldiers tackle Boko Haram fighters from neighbouring Nigeria.

    Soldiers have been deployed across the country after separatists threatened to disrupt voting [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

    Language war

    Separatist leaders in Anglophone regions want to secede and form their own country, called Ambazonia, resulting in their armed confrontation with the Cameroon military.

    The armed movement grew out of frustrations in late 2016 by English-speaking teachers and lawyers with the dominance of the French language and the marginalisation of the country's Anglophone population.

    Attacks on symbols of Cameroonian authority, including police killings and kidnappings of civil servants, mounted while local officials fled Anglophone areas, fearing for their lives.

    Thousands of Cameroonian refugees are in Nigeria to avoid the violence in English-speaking regions [Al Jazeera]

    More than 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting and tens of thousands fled to Nigeria, according to the United Nations.

    Soldiers have been accused of burning houses and killing residents in remote Anglophone villages.

    The conduct of the Cameroon military was roundly condemned by human rights group, Amnesty International.

    "The human rights violations committed by the Cameroonian security forces and authorities have also contributed to creating a pervasive climate of fear, which some observers say has led to a growing sense of alienation among communities in the Anglophone regions," Ilaria Allegrozzi, Lake Chad Researcher at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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