The President Biya has won all three previous elections since multiparty politics were reintroduced in Cameroon in 1990. On all those occasions, the opposition cried foul, alleging widespread fraud – but to no avail.
In 2008, the 78-year-old Biya eliminated term limits from the constitution to allow him run again. He faces a history-making 22 challengers in the one-round ballot billed for Sunday, 9 October, and observers say he will likely win another seven-year mandate.
Cameroon's President Paul Biya waves to supporters during the opening of his party conference, in Yaounde, on September 15, 2011.
They are pointing to the fractured nature of the opposition, the large number of candidates, their weak public support, high voter apathy as well as nationwide hegemony enjoyed by Biya’s ruling Cameroon Peoples’ Democratic Movement party, the CPDM.
Dr Abgor Ambang, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Yaoundé, says increasing state grants for financing campaigns may explain the rise in number of presidential aspirants from 16 at the last election in 2004 to 22 today.
"When you legalize about 243 political parties in a country," says Ambang,"the [main purpose] of a political party is the quest for state power. This is not the moment to ask those questions. All of us know this problem of ghost parties in Cameroon. We are reducing a solemn event to a kind of stock exchange exercise where you have snipers and political merchants go and plough in money to make some gains."
The main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, has traditionally emerged runner up in previous elections. Observers say once again, the real fight will be between the CPDM and the SDF.
Its leader, Ni John Fru Ndi, says most of the currently existing parties have been set up by Biya to destabilize the opposition. But Biya’s supporters say it is a clear sign of advancing democracy.
Election fever is steadily gaining momentum as the presidential aspirants crisscross the country, wooing the electorate and making unsustainable promises if elected. Biya has himself hit the campaign trail, with a first outing to Maroua in the country’s far north region.
He says his vision to transform Cameroon into an emerging economy by 2035 will become reality over the next seven years. Biya says he will set up the yet-to-be created senate and constitutional council, intensify the fight against corruption, undertake major infrastructure projects in the energy and transport sectors, relaunch agriculture and improve healthcare among others.
Cameroon’s Incumbent Leader Poised For Reelection
But critics insist 30 years of Biya’s rule has left Cameroon grappling to emerge from underdevelopment, sluggish growth, prevalent poverty and chronic corruption despite its vast natural resources. Many say his likely reelection will not herald any substantial change. Serge Nloga is a resident of the country’s largest city and commercial hub, Douala.
"I don’t think so," says Nloga. "Not at all! But in every case as a citizen, I am obliged to vote. But I don’t think it will change anything."
And across the country, many are complaining they cannot find their voter cards despite parrticiping the voters registration drive. Others say their names are not included on voter lists.
The prevailing impression within the opposition is that such complaints indicate planned malpractice being orchestrated by the government and the elections management body, Elections Cameroon, or ELECAM. Elizabeth Tamanjong is the SDF’s secretary general.
"Everything is being put in place by the regime and ELECAM is fraudulent," she says. "They don’t want transparent elections. Why do I say this? The issues of double voter cards – even the names of dead people are on voter lists. It is really embarrassing. I have had people calling me from the whole national territory to tell me some have four, five voter cards.
ELECAM was created in 2008 and has frequently come under heavy opposition criticism as most of its members are from the ruling party. But officials say they are keen on conducting a free and fair poll.
The SDF’s Fru Ndi says the government and ELECAM will be held responsible if things go sour after the election. He says it’s the last time he is running for the post of president and intends to set up a three-year transitional government as well as a four-state federation.
"I want Mr Biya’s government to take note that Cameroonians are politically aware and very sensitive and that’s why they boycotted the registration," says Fru Ndi. "We had to push them hard to register. They are saying that they’re to vote for the last time and to defend their votes so that they shouldn’t rig them again."
A year ago, Fru Ndi threatened to boycott and possibly disrupt the election if the government failed to enact reforms. The government reacted by appointing civil society actors into ELECAM. Now, he says will change his mind and encourage demonstrations if the election results are doctored.
But in the streets of Douala, many say they would abstain from protests. Maureen Ndi is from the same region as the SDF leader.
"I’m not ready to join in any protests," says Ndi. "I believe that the happenings in other countries like Ivory Coast, Egypt and Libya are too fresh in our memories and if it has to happen here, it would be terrible. We have never experienced war. Cameroonians are suffering, but we want peace."
Over 24,000 polling stations nationwide will open at 8am and close at 6 pm Sunday. This year marks the first time Cameroonians living overseas will participate in the presidential election. Results are not expected until a few days later and they will be proclaimed by the Supreme Court, acting in place of the Constitutional Council.