BAMENDA, CAMEROON - Cameroon’s ruling party officials have held several campaign rallies for the October 7 presidential poll in the country’s restive English-speaking regions, despite threats from separatists.
Authorities say rebels abducted at least eight party officials and attacked some campaigners. Nonetheless, the party says it will continue to spread its message in the regions and even mocked opposition parties for avoiding them.
President Paul Biya's Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM) is touting itself as the only political party worth voting for on Sunday in the Anglophone regions.
CPDM Secretary General Jean Nkwete told supporters in the northwest town of Bamenda Tuesday they are the only party to campaign there – showing the opposition does not care about the people.
"Where are those political parties today? They have abandoned you and fled the region. They are seen only on television," Nkwete said.
Anglophone separatists began a violent campaign in northwest and southwest Cameroon one year ago, citing alleged discrimination and oppression by the country's French-speaking majority.
Despite threats from separatists, Biya's party campaigned in the northwest over the weekend under heavy security.
All eight of his opposition challengers have avoided or were chased out of the two English-speaking regions.
Mefire Ousmanou of the Cameroon Democratic Union said that the CPDM has military protection, so it can more easily campaign in the regions.
He said under the present context of terrible conflicts in the English-speaking regions, the government should encourage reconciliation instead of using force to get angry people to vote.
But even under heavy security, the ruling party was not immune the region’s unrest.
Authorities say separatists attacked several CPDM campaign caravans but the military killed an undisclosed number of the attackers.
Authorities also say eight CPDM supporters were abducted from a hotel in Bamenda.
Professor Willibroad Ze Ngwa says campaigning in the regions is not enough and the ruling party should engage in an all-inclusive dialogue to end the unrest.
"They want to provide the solution through their political lenses. It is only their political party that should be able to provide the solution to the problem. And we say - no. We are saying that Cameroonians from all walks of life should get to the field and talk to the people in a tone of appeasement, keeping their political jackets by the side," Ze Ngwa said.
Nearly 400 people have been killed since the separatist conflict broke out in in November 2017.
The Anglophone separatists want autonomous rule from the government in Yaounde and have vowed on social media to prevent Sunday’s election.
Cameroon's elections management body, ELECAM, has insisted that elections will take place in the troubled spots.
ELECAM created polling centers it says will accommodate hundreds of polling stations that will be guarded by the military.
Eight candidates are running against Biya. But the 85-year-old president, who has ruled the central African country since 1982, is favored to win another seven-year term that would end in 2025.