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Cameroon's Presidential Campaign Kicks Off - 2004-09-27


Cameroon's presidential campaign has kicked off, amid concerns over whether next month's vote will be free and fair. Long-time President Paul Biya is expected to win the October 11 election, as the opposition has also been unable to present a united front.

A singer heralded the start of the campaign for President Paul Biya at the glitzy congressional palace in Yaounde Sunday night.

Ruling party provincial and community campaign workers are now fanning out throughout Cameroon on behalf of the 72-year-old president, in power since 1982.

Secretary-general of the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, Gregoire Owona, says Mr. Biya is the only candidate with an appealing platform.

He says Mr. Biya can ensure peace and stability, while also developing agriculture, tourism and employment.

In Cameroon's fractious political landscape, Mr. Biya is getting the support of over 20 political parties, including the United Republican Party, led by Narcisse Abe.

"We know President Biya brought us democracy first, peace and stability," he said. "We are sure that [with] President Biya, his project of society, we are sure that Cameroon will be a great, great country."

In the streets of Yaounde, several opposition candidates kicked off their campaigns Sunday with competing motorcades. Their messages should become clearer, as, for the first time, candidates will be able to buy advertisements in newspapers and on private radio stations to promote their campaigns.

Fifteen opposition candidates have been registered, including Anisse Ekane, from the party known by its acronym, MANIDEM.

Mr. Ekane says it should not be a problem that there are so many candidates, because, he says, a proper campaign should give time for voters to make the right choice.

But a coalition of major opposition parties has failed in its effort to present a single candidate. Just days before the coalition was scheduled to make its choice, a main opposition leader, John Fru Ndi, broke away, and declared his own candidacy.

Mr. Fru Ndi almost won the one-round presidential election in 1992, but the coalition has now picked former Education Minister Adamou Ndam Njoya as its candidate instead.

Major opposition leaders boycotted the process in 1997 after accusing the government of rigging the voting process, an opinion shared by most international observers.

In the run-up to this campaign, opposition leaders have been angry that voter rolls have yet to be computerized. They say this antiquated system allows the practice of so-called electoral charters, whereby the Biya team buses around its supporters on voting days, so they can vote in different voting districts using the same name.

The president's team has denied these charges. It also denies giving money to its supporters to buy their new $5 identity cards, which will be needed for voters to obtain their voting cards.

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