YAOUNDE - Cameroon has warned opposition political parties against any acts that may jeopardize its local council and parliamentary elections in February. The warning comes after opposition party leader Maurice Kamto, who claims President Paul Biya stole last year's October election, called for a boycott of the polls.
Cameroon territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji says the government will not tolerate any acts that disturb the free conduct of February’s local and parliamentary elections.
"Politicians specialized in hate speech, manipulation and provocation, as well as defiance of state authority should know that they will face the heavy arm of the law in case of any misconduct," he said. "I want to make it very clear. Promoters of political parties will henceforth be held accountable in case of any disruption of public order related to political parties."
Nji’s warning came after opposition leader Maurice Kamto at a Monday press conference announced a boycott of the February polls.
Kamto had planned to run for office but changed his mind and accused authorities of trying to destroy his party, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM).
Kamto says he does not doubt that the objective of, what he calls, the illegitimate Yaounde regime, in collaboration with the ministry of territorial administration and the different state services, is to destroy the CRM party. He says they want to eliminate the party from the political map and terrorize the Cameroonian people to keep the ruling class in power.
Kamto accuses Nji of scheming with Cameroon’s elections management body (ELECAM) to fix last year’s presidential election to re-elect long-serving President Paul Biya.
The election authorities and Nji deny the polls were anything but free and fair.
Kamto said his boycott was based on electoral laws that favor Biya’s ruling party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) and the ongoing separatist conflict.
His call for an election boycott received mixed views from opposition supporters like 30-year-old Justin Alega.
He says Kamto has betrayed his supporters and is plugging his political party into the group of losers. Because, when they are not represented at the national assembly, says Alega, they will no longer have a platform for their voices to be heard. He says if Kamto wants to change Cameroon’s laws he says are bad, he should do everything to be voted-in as a lawmaker.
31-year-old Kamto supporter Anabel Mbi, however, says he supports the decision to boycott the elections.
"There is no need going for an election when you know that your victory will be stolen and often when you protest you are arrested. This is dictatorship," he says.
Political analyst at the University of Yaoundé Divine Kweh says the opposition MRC should fight for political change from within, as the new parliament’s mandate will last five years.
"The meaning is that for the next five years, MRC will only make their voices heard through street protests because they will not participate at decision-making circles directly," says Kweh. "Kamto should have gone in for the elections and try to effect changes from within parliament."
Kamto called on Monday for other opposition parties, civil society, and religious groups, to join in boycotting the elections.
Territorial Administration Minister Nji warned he would arrest Kamto, or anyone else, who staged unauthorized protests against the elections.
Kamto and more than 400 of his supporters spent nine months in prison for street protests over the October 2018 presidential election results.
Authorities released Kamto in October for a national dialogue on the separatist conflict in Cameroon. But he was banned from holding public events.