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Cameroon Presidential Candidates Contest Disqualification

Cameroon President Paul Byia leaves the pooling station after voting in Yaounde, Cameroon, October 11, 2004. (file photo)
Cameroon President Paul Byia leaves the pooling station after voting in Yaounde, Cameroon, October 11, 2004. (file photo)

Election authorities in Cameroon have disqualified half of the country's 51 presidential candidates before the October 9 poll, prompting mild demonstrations this weekend outside the electoral commission.

Cameroon's Supreme Court is reviewing the cases of presidential hopefuls whose candidacies were thrown out Friday by the electoral commission, also known as ELECAM. Election officials say they expect the Supreme Court to issue speedy judgments.

Election Board Chairman Fonkam Azu'u said the exclusions stemmed from flaws in candidate applications.

He said the applications were meticulously examined by authorities. He said 21 candidates were accepted as meeting the legal requirements. He said the others were rejected, in particular, because documents lacked legalized signatures, candidates had not paid the necessary deposit, and other errors.

Some disqualified candidates demonstrated outside the electoral commission in the capital, Yaounde, this weekend and have threatened to disrupt next month's poll if "justice does not prevail."

The party of well-known opposition candidate Anicet Ekane protested after he was declared ineligible.

Ekane said the issue is a tax-declaration certificate required by law. But he said for the 2004 presidential election and 2007 legislative election, his candidacy was accepted with a similar tax situation and documentation. He said he is convinced the Supreme Court will right the wrong.

Cameroon has 250 officially recognized political parties, though analysts say most are very small, regionally-based and centered on a single candidate.

The presidential poll is a single-round election, so the large field of 21 candidates could favor incumbent President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 29 years. He eliminated term limits from the constitution in 2008, sparking protests that killed at least 40 people.

The opposition accuses election officials of being pro-ruling party, but has backtracked on previous threats to boycott next month's poll.

The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization oversaw the country's former electoral commission, which was disbanded in 2008, and has been criticized in the past for allegedly helping rig elections in favor of the ruling party.

Current minister Marafat Hamidou Yaya has sought to reassure the public.

“ELECAM is a national structure. ELECAM is independent. ELECAM is organizing elections," said Yaya. "They have the exclusivity of material organization of the election. The law says that the administration helps ELECAM play its role."

According to U.S. diplomatic cables released by the website Wikileaks this month, Minister Yaya reportedly told the former U.S. ambassador to Cameroon the electoral commission was unfit to organize a problem-free election. He said its officials are corrupt and that a rigged or poorly-managed poll could spark civil unrest.

Yaya has responded, saying his doubts about the election commission were justified at the time. Critics say his comments reflect his desire that his ministry once again assume an active role in organizing elections.

Distribution of voter cards to the country's 7.5 million registered voters begins Wednesday. Official campaigning kicks off September 25.