YAOUNDE - Campaigning for Cameroon's October 7 presidential election officially begun Saturday. Opposition parties have failed to agree on a single candidate to face incumbent President Paul Biya and are suspicious of each other as they maneuver to unseat the man who has ruled Cameroon since for more than three and a half decades.
Thousands of people march through the streets of the northern Cameroon town of Garoua, singing and pledging their support for Paul Biya as campaigns for the October 7 presidential election begin. The people are from the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), and 20 other political parties whose leaders, last July, announced that they had endorsed the candidacy of Biya and had asked their supporters to vote for him.
The National Salvation Front party of Cameroon's communication minister, Issa Tchiroma, is one of the parties that stands strong in support of Biya. Tchiroma says Biya is the only one seen as protecting Cameroon's interest.
He says people are against Paul Biya and criticize him daily or attack his policies simply because he has been protecting the country's riches from foreign predators. He says people are offering their unconditional support to Biya because he has pledged that as long as he lives and as long as he has the support of the Cameroonian people, he will protect all natural resources and riches for future generations.
Tchiroma spent 6 years in prison after he was arrested on 16 April 1984 for involvement in a coup attempt against Biya. When he regained freedom in 1990, he campaigned against Biya, but surprisingly Biya appointed him minister of transport in 1992 in what was viewed as a way of dividing and weakening the opposition.
Since then, the country’s opposition has remained fractured, with eight candidates running against Biya in the presidential poll.
Serge Espoire Matomba, candidate of the P.U.R.S. party, says even though campaigning has started, he still hopes, in talking with other contenders, the opposition will agree on a single candidate.
"I speak with Professor Maurice Kamto, I speak with Akere Muna, I speak with Osih Joshua, I speak with Cabral Libi. That means we are still working on it."
Maurice Kamto of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement party says he will not agree to surrender his candidacy to someone else.
"Why should I abandon my candidacy and line up behind another one, no. I am a leader of a political party, I am not standing on my own."
Twenty-eight candidates filed to compete in the presidential election. Cameroon's elections management body ELECAM accepted nine, including Biya’s candidacy.
Party leaders have traded blame for their failure to unite.
The main opposition candidate Joshua Osih says he suspects some of the candidates are sponsored by Biya to keep the opposition fractured.
The 85-year-old Biya, who has led the central African country since 1982, is favored to win another seven-year term. That would take his rule 2025.