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Cameroon Elections Get Underway - 2002-06-30

Voters in Cameroon cast ballots Sunday in the central African country's first legislative elections in five years after they were postponed last week due to poor organization.

Voter turnout in the capital, Yaounde, and throughout Cameroon was reported to be low.

Voters chose 180 new members of parliament, which is currently dominated by the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement Party of longtime President Paul Biya. The party, which holds 116 seats, hopes to expand its control of the legislative body.

Along with legislative elections, municipal elections were held Sunday in more than 300 towns and cities.

The campaign was marred by accusations of fraud and problems with the distribution of voter registration cards. The opposition accused election officials of being biased in favor of the ruling party after a large number of opposition candidate lists were rejected.

Observers say voters' confidence in the electoral process was further shaken on June 23, when the president decided to cancel the elections while they were, in some cases, already under way. Mr. Biya said he postponed the poll after learning the government had not finished printing ballots in time for the elections. As a result, he dismissed his Interior Minister, Ferdinand Koungou Edima, who had been responsible for organizing the elections.

The postponement of the elections was an embarrassment for the government, and it further fueled accusations of fraud that had been leveled by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front. The party's leader, John Fru Ndi, told VOA that President Biya, who has been in power for 20 years, should resign.

"He sacked his minister of territorial administration, and these elections are failing. It means that he has failed, and if he has failed, he should step down," he said.

Despite the accusations, his party did not boycott the elections. Mr. Fru Ndi was among those lining up early Sunday to cast a ballot.

The country's National Elections Observatory, whose members are appointed by presidential decree, sought to ease tensions during the past few days by validating some of the previously rejected opposition candidate lists. Officials on Saturday assured the population that voting materials were to be in place as scheduled this time.

For the most part, observers said the voting on Sunday went smoothly. Witnesses say for the most part, materials were delivered to polling locations in a timely manner.

Some analysts say part of the reason for the low turnout Sunday may have been the timing of the poll, which coincided with the World Cup football's final match.