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Problems Mar Cameroon Vote - 2004-10-11


Polls have closed in the one-round presidential election in the central African country of Cameroon. President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, is expected to win. Voting was marred by logistical problems, scuffles and few eligible voters.

Music welcomed President Biya as he arrived to vote along with his wife in the capital Yaounde.

He said he hoped the vote would be transparent and that all Cameroonians would accept the results.

Just before polls opened, national election observers said more than 600,000 duplicate names had been taken off voter lists, to prevent multiple voting. This has been rampant since the introduction of multi-party elections in 1990.

At the polling station where Mr. Biya voted, Interior Minister Marafa Hamidou Yaya said the slashing of voter rolls was normal procedure.

"You know we had some people who maybe did not know what was happening, who are there and their names are there two or three times," he said. "We just did the clean-up."

Election officials said the number of eligible voters went below four million, even though total population is 17 million.

In English-speaking neighborhoods, some opposition voters said they could not find their names on electoral lists even though they had registered. But they said Biya supporters continued the practice of voting several times.

"I do not know what is wrong with registration because I registered, even some friends, we registered together. My name is not even on the list," said Christophe Eboa, who was among those complaining. "There are so many people like this and we did register. So many people are complaining, but there are some people who have even three cards. I have just been around the police station down there and one person has voted three times. I saw it, it is not that I heard it as rumors."

Repeat names could be seen on voter lists, while so-called indelible ink to identify those who voted was easily washed away.

Ngongang Kichere Serjou, 21, felt disillusioned with his first voting experience.

"The process of the election, the registration is not fair," he said. "We have the impression the thing is not transparent, so we are very skeptical about the whole thing, it is not transparent."

Election monitors said voter turnout seemed light throughout the country.

They also said ballot papers occasionally went missing at several polling stations, especially those for the two main opposition candidates, John Fru Ndi, from the Social Democratic Front, and Adamou Ndam Njoya, from the Democratic Union of Cameroon.

There were also several scuffles reported in the western Anglophone region, where Mr. Fru Ndi has strong support. In one instance, his party's vice president and other militants blocked a caravan of buses carrying Biya supporters, prompting police to intervene. In another, police used tear gas to prevent a mob from lynching a voter accused of trying to vote a second time.

Results are expected to trickle in this week, but Mr. Biya is already expected to win. The opposition was unable to field a single candidate to defeat him, instead there were 12 opposition leaders vying for the top post.