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Cameroon Prepares for Election Amid Allegations of Gov't Fraud - 2004-10-10


Voters in the stable and resource-rich central African country of Cameroon go to the polls Monday to elect a president for the next seven years. The lack of a united opposition, and renewed allegations of fraud point to near-certain victory for long-time President Paul Biya.

The campaign song for Mr. Biya, in power since 1982, played over the radio, in market stalls and at political meetings throughout Cameroon during the brief campaign.

During one of his few rallies, President Biya said it may take awhile, but that he is still working to improve the economy, which, despite steady growth, still leaves most Cameroonians impoverished.

More than 20 political parties are backing him, including his own ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement and the Green party, led by Joseph Aime Fogoum.

"Our support behind Biya is, firstly, the peace. We want to have a country in which peace is strongly held. President Biya is the one who can gather the people," he said.

Major opposition parties tried to back a single candidate, but their plan imploded, when the Social Democratic Front's John Fru Ndi went ahead with his own candidacy, even though the coalition picked anti-corruption crusader Adamou Ndam Njoya.

There are now a dozen other opposition candidates, in addition to those two.

Local journalist Francois Essomba says their high number dashed the hopes of opposition supporters for a competitive vote in the single-round election.

"They wanted to be together to make a sort of force to face Mr. Biya, but, unfortunately, many citizens that were trying to see things to be changed in Cameroon were counting on them. But, unfortunately, they couldn't get the unique candidate they were expecting for," said Mr. Essomba.

The opposition also fears there could be vote-rigging, as it alleges has been the case in every multi-party election since the early 1990s.

The government has refused to computerize voter rolls, saying it is too expensive. One of the many opposition candidates, Garga Haman Adji, from the Alliance for Democracy and Development, says he has proof some of Mr. Biya's supporters were given several voting cards.

"One person has four, up till 10 voting cards, for one person. I have these cards in my hand," he said. "So, we have evidence, material evidence. This cannot work in a democracy. This means Cameroon is no longer a democracy, if it has ever been."

In protest, one of the opposition candidates, Djeukam Tchameni, popular with small businessmen, has pulled out.

A small Commonwealth team is monitoring the vote, as well as diplomats, six invited former U.S. lawmakers and nearly 20,000 national electoral commission observers. Their reports and election results are not expected until next week, at the earliest.

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