One of Africa’s oldest leaders Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist since 1982, won a landslide victory yesterday in a controversial presidential election, as the government tightened security and gunfire erupted in the volatile Anglophone region.
The Constitutional Council, dominated by Biya loyalists, said yesterday the 85-year-old leader had won 71.3% of the ballot in the October 7 election, marred by allegations of widespread fraud, a low turnout and violence in the poll run-up.
The Council’s head Clement Atangana said opposition challenger Maurice Kamto, was a far second with 14.2% of the vote.
“Today, we cannot imagine a scenario where Mr Biya will quit power normally,” said political expert Stephane Akoa.
“If Mr Biya thought about alternating power or democracy, he would not have put in place this machinery…whose main task is modify the results in such a way that Mr Biya is the inevitable winner,” he said.
Voting was disrupted in Francophone Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions, where a separatist movement has unleashed a brutal government crackdown.
Turnout here was below 5%, according to the International Crisis Group think tank.
Witnesses yesterday told AFP of gunfire during the morning in Buea, capital of the English-speaking Southwest region, which has been rocked by violence for months.
The Constitutional Council had 15 days after the vote to weigh up objections filed concerning the election. It rejected all 18 complaints. The final results can no longer be challenged.
Biya notably won 79.7% of the vote in Adamaoua, 71.1% in the Centre and 90.4% in the East, the Council said.
AFP journalists reported tight security around the main post office in the capital Yaounde after calls on social media for a protest rally against the results. Anti-riot police trucks and security forces were deployed across the area.
Authorities on Sunday had banned an opposition march in the commercial capital Douala called to denounce the “shameful and massive fraud” in the election.
About 30 people were arrested on the spot, AFP journalists reported.
Kamto, who pronounced himself the winner of the vote before even the first results were announced — leading the government to brand him an outlaw — has alleged that six of the 11 members of the Constitutional Council were biased in Biya’s favour.
Kamto was yesterday declared the winner in the Littoral province — the only one not won by Biya — where he got 38.6% of the vote.
The province is home to the country’s commercial capital Douala.
Biya’s main challenger has also called for the vote to be annulled in seven of the country’s 10 regions, citing “multiple irregularities, serious cases of fraud and multiple violations of the law”.
In English-speaking Buea, a resident said shooting took place in the Mile 16 and Great Soppo districts of the city.
“We heard a lot of gunshots this morning,” another resident said.
But a security source told AFP there had been no clashes in Buea yesterday.
The army has been deployed in the Southwest and the other Anglophone region, the Northwest, to hunt down the scattered groups of separatists who seek the independence of these territories.
The historic opposition party based in the west, the Social Democratic Front, has long stood against Biya.
The party’s failure to demand outright independence has roused calls of “treason” among hardliners.
Biya became prime minister in 1975, but precisely how he was anointed to succeed Cameroon’s founding president Ahmadou Ahidjo in November 1982 remains a mystery.
Unlike more fiery and flamboyant peers in the club of long-standing African leaders, critics say Biya — who is nicknamed ‘The Sphinx’ — is a quiet autocrat.
In a rare moment of candour, he once warned of his sweeping powers telling a Cameroonian journalist in 1986: “Just a little shake of my head and you’ll be reduced to nothing.”