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Cameroon's Longtime Leader to Seek Re-election in October

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)

Cameroon's long-time president, Paul Biya, stands a good chance of re-election this October against what analysts say is a weak and divided opposition.

Election officials in Cameroon are reviewing applications from 51 presidential candidates, including Biya, who filed his papers just before the Sunday deadline.

The 78-year-old president is seeking another seven-year term, despite calls to retire after 29 years in power.

Re-election likely

In 2008, Biya eliminated term limits from the constitution, fueling protests that killed more than 40 people. Opposition members argue the reform bars Biya from running again.

But analysts say the president has a strong chance of re-election. The country's fractured opposition has been unable to mount much of a challenge in the past.

Sociologist Claude Abe said the opposition in Cameroon is dead, and has been for years. He said he expects the ruling party to intensify its campaign, while the opposition continues what has been a disorganized and indecisive pattern of behavior. He said it is obvious that Biya will win, but asks at what price for Cameroon.

Opposition divided, ineffectual

Many argue that the opposition has lost credibility with voters. Opposition parties failed to unite behind a single coalition in the last election in 2004, and some say opposition leaders have struck deals with the ruling party for government posts.

Biya won a landslide victory in 2004 with more than 70 percent of ballots. His closest challenger, Ni John Fru Ndi, won only 17 percent.

Fru Ndi heads the country's lead opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, which initially threatened to boycott and possibly disrupt this year's poll. The opposition accused the electoral commission of being pro-ruling party. But in August, however, the party backtracked on its threat and urged supporters to register. Some say the change in strategy came too late.

Meanwhile, Biya's party, the Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement, had been mobilizing voters to register for months.

Biya campaign in full swing

Its Secretary-General, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, filed Biya's candidacy papers on Sunday.

Sadi said supporters have been urging Biya to run for the past year. He said the president will announce his plans for the country if he is re-elected. Sadi said more will be known at the party congress later this month.

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.

The electoral commission says it has registered 7.5-million people to vote, falling short of its goal of nine-million.

Official campaigning kicks off September 25. Cameroon goes to the polls on October 9.