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Cameroon to Hold Presidential Poll October 9

Cameroon's President Paul Biya and First Lady Chantal Biya arrive at the opening ceremony of the Francophone Summit in Montreux, Switzerland, October 23, 2010.
Cameroon's President Paul Biya and First Lady Chantal Biya arrive at the opening ceremony of the Francophone Summit in Montreux, Switzerland, October 23, 2010.

Cameroon will hold its presidential poll October 9. The country's longtime president, Paul Biya, is expected to seek re-election despite calls to step down.

Voter registration closes Wednesday in Cameroon, just one day after President Biya signed a decree setting the poll date for October 9.

The 78-year-old president has not yet said whether he will seek another seven-year term. Ruling party officials have urged him to run.

Biya's party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, or CPDM, will choose its candidate at a congress on September 15 and 16 in the capital Yaounde.

Journalist Christopher Ambe in Cameroon says some want Biya to step aside.

"He has worked so hard that people think he should now retire," he said. "There has been this debate that we need somebody new to be presidential candidate within the CPDM. That notwithstanding, we are also getting people who are calling that he should stand for re-election. So, at a congress like this, people are already vying to put in their candidature."

Tension between the new and old guard extends to internal party politics as well.

Party member Robert Moute says elders need to cede top positions to younger members and support them without suffocating them. He says many have been waiting for leadership opportunities for the past 15 years. He says it is time to rejuvenate the party, especially considering that more than half of the country's registered voters for this election are under 30 years old.

The electoral commission says 7.5 million people have registered to vote, just over one-third of the country's population.

President Biya has led Cameroon since 1982. The president's stranglehold on power has given the Central African country a certain stability. But analysts say the country could be headed for an eventual crisis thanks to bitter political rivalries and unclear legal provisions for succession.

In 2008, Biya eliminated term limits from the constitution. The move fueled anti-government riots that human rights groups, cited by the U.S. State Department, say killed approximately 100 people, though the government of Cameroon put that number at closer to 40.

Some opposition members argue that the constitutional reform bars Biya from running again.

Still, analysts say the president stands a good chance of re-election. His party is the country's most active and began mobilizing voters to register months ago. The country's fractured opposition has been unable to mount much of a challenge in the past.

Biya's supporters at a rally in southwestern Cameroon say they want him to finish what he started.

"He has given us a lot of roads," says one of his supporters. "He employed youth and raising things on the Bakassi peninsula which he has recovered from the struggle with Nigeria. It is peaceful. He goes abroad. He has done a lot for the youth and the country at large."

Opposition leaders have called on the president to retire and accused the electoral commission of being pro-ruling party.

In August, the country's lead opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, backtracked on threats to boycott and possibly disrupt the poll. The party said the government had partially yielded to its demands, which included putting civil society members on the electoral commission.

Presidential hopefuls have until September 4th to submit their candidacies to election authorities.

Official campaigning kicks off September 15.

Ntaryike Divine, Jr. contributed reporting from Douala, Cameroon.