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Few Voters Take Part in Cameroon Election - 2004-10-11


Cameroonians are heading to the polls in small numbers, in a one-round presidential election many believe will return long-time President Paul Biya to power. Logistical problems and a divided opposition seem to be the reasons for the low turnout.

Cameroonians were given the day off Monday to choose between 13 presidential candidates at more than 20,000 polling stations.

Three minor opposition candidates pulled out, in the last hours of the campaign. One of them alleged the vote would not be free and fair.

But local journalist Francois Essomba says it is the inability of the two main opposition parties to present a single candidate, despite forming a coalition, that is keeping many potential voters away.

"Many people prefer to remain at home because they did not see how things are going to be changed since the opposition party decided to split into two," he explained. "I think for them they already have the result and maybe they think nothing will now stop Mr. Biya to have the seven new years."

At several polling stations in the capital, Yaounde, many voters could not find their names on voter lists, even though they had registered.

Student Eric Karih Koizah says it is still important to vote, but that a complicated and costly system to get voting cards also impeded turnout.

"Any vote, even if it's empty ballot paper even those who are depositing empty ballot paper, it will still mean a sanction to somebody," he said. "But the primary problem is most people do not have faith against this election because most of the youth don't even have voting cards. Many people do not register or saw it useless to vote or even some who demanded for the electoral cards were not handed in time."

Government officials said many citizens applied too late. But in some ruling party strongholds, citizens were able to vote without any voting card.

In the days leading up to the vote, the National Election board addressed another opposition complaint that some voters had multiple registrations.

It slashed voter rolls from 4.6 million eligible voters to less than four million. Total population is about 17 million.

With or without a large turnout, a top official from the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, Gregoire Owona, says President Biya is headed to victory.

He says Mr. Biya, in power since 1982, has experience, the backing of a solid party and the faith of Cameroonians to maintain peace, stability and growth.

Most opposition candidates called for a better sharing of wealth from the country's many resources, including timber, cocoa, oil, cotton and rubber.

Voters have until late evening to cast their ballots, so the turnout percentage could increase.

Several hundred national and international monitors are working alongside thousands of national electoral body observers, to check whether the voting process meets democratic norms.

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