Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019.   REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Several supporters of Maurice Kamto, the Cameroonian opposition leader who claims he won the October 2018 presidential election and that long-serving President Paul Biya stole his victory, have been arrested for campaigning for a total boycott of Sunday's local and parliamentary elections. The Cameroon Peoples Party is also calling for a total boycott. Both parties say the political crisis that has killed at least 3,000 people in the English-speaking regions should be solved and electoral laws reviewed before any polls. 

Moise Andzomo, spokesman for the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, party in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, says 11 of its supporters were arrested Friday morning by heavily armed police in the western town of Mbouda for campaigning for a total boycott of the February 9 local and parliamentary elections.

He says in spite of the arrest and detention of their supporters, his party is calling on all Cameroonians who love their country and love social justice to stay home February 9 and not participate in the elections. He says the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement party is not ready to leave power and its leader, Paul Biya has prepared electoral laws that can never allow for free and fair elections.

FILE - A woman searches for her name at a polling station during elections, in Yaounde, Cameroon, Oct. 7, 2018.

Cameroon's government has not reacted to reports about the arrests relayed by several radio stations. The CRM has, ever since elections were called, asked the population not to participate, stating that the country was in a crisis and the polls are unlikely to bring peace.

The CRM also said its candidate, Maurice Kamto, won the October 2018 presidential election and Biya stole his victory, indicating in their view that the Cameroonian leader is not ready to relinquish power, even if beaten in an election.

Kah Walla, president of the Cameroon Peoples Party is also calling for the boycott of the polls. She says Cameroon cannot hold elections while part of its territory is in the middle of a severe separatist crisis, with the military and fighters engaged in battles every day.

"We can not have citizens who are dying and we just continue on and go to the elections," said Walla. "No to the elections because we have an electoral system which has been put into question and proven to be a system which cannot produce free and fair elections, and we say on February 9, nobody, nobody is going for elections."

Kah Walla said she was calling on all Cameroonians to stay home on election day and avoid confrontations with the military that could result in casualties.

She said she and a few other political parties had launched what they call a Stand Up For Cameroon Movement, inviting all Cameroonians who want to rebuild their country to join them in pressing for a democratic and nonviolent political transition that will see the departure of Paul Biya and the regime he has led for 38 years.

However, Paul Atanga Nji, Cameroon's minister of territorial administration, says the elections must take place. He says Biya has given firm instructions to the military to deal with anyone who will want to disrupt the elections.

"The governors have been given firm instructions to put in place security measures where we have challenges," said Nji. "We are sensitizing Cameroonians to go and vote, which is their inalienable right. The forces of defense and security [military], known for their professionalism, will support the administrative authorities to protect ELECAM [elections staff] in the exercise of their duties."

Nji said all elections material had been dispatched to the field and items destroyed by separatists replaced. He said the military was specially deployed to protect both voters and elections material.

The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement and some opposition political parties, such as the Social Democratic Front, Cameroonian Democratic Union, Movement for the Defense of the Republic, and National Union for Democracy and Progress,  say they are going in for the elections to enact laws that can solve the crisis Cameroon is facing.

Separatist fighters have imposed a travel ban and vowed that the local and parliamentary elections will also not take place. Civilians are escaping from the English-speaking regions where there have been battles between the military and rebels. The civilians say they do not believe the government will be able to protect them.