YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Hundreds of people have marched in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, calling for the cancellation of Sunday's local and parliamentary elections in favor of a transition ending long-serving president Paul Biya's regime The protesters say only a transition will lay the foundation for democracy. The government has again insisted that the elections must be held Sunday.
These are the voices of at least 500 men, women and youths dressed in black, singing as they march through the streets of Cameroon's capital Yaounde Friday. They sang that Cameroon needs a political transition to end President Paul Biya's 38 years in power, not the local and parliamentary elections the government is organizing on Sunday.
Fifty-eight political parties including the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement some old opposition political parties, such as the Social Democratic Front, Cameroonian Democratic Union, Movement for the Defense of the Republic and the National Union for Democracy and Progress are taking part in both elections are. All of them say they are going into Parliament to enact laws that can solve the crisis Cameroon is facing.
Among the leaders of the protest is Kah Walla, president of the Cameroon Peoples Party and former presidential candidate. She says Biya's dictatorial regime has rigged the system and can never be ousted in an election.
Kah Walla says she is certain that if the elections take place, Biya's Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement party will still have a majority that is loyal to the long-serving leader.
"We are not going to have a parliament that would be able to do any better than the outgoing parliament has done nor mayors who will be able to do any better," Walla said. "Yes to political transition. We need an end to this regime, we need reforms of institutions including the electoral system and then we can talk about elections."
Kah Walla said she was calling on all Cameroonians to join protests for a transition because it was unfortunate that since Biya became president of Cameroon 38 years ago, he has been deaf to calls for electoral reforms the opposition has been clamoring for.
The protests were organized by Stand Up For Cameroon, a movement launched by five opposition political parties, including Union of Cameroon People-Manidem and the Cameroon Renaissance Movement of Maurice Kamto, who claims he won the October 2018 presidential election and that his victory was stolen by Biya.
Stand Up for Cameroon says its objective is to create for a genuine political transition in Cameroon.
Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi says Biya enjoys legitimacy after a landslide victory, with 71% of the vote in the 2018 presidential poll, with Maurice Kamto in a distant second with 14%.
Sadi says the elections must take place as planned and that any person who wants to disrupt it will be arrested.
"It is suprising that some leaders of political parties are today putting forth various considerations either to boycott the elections or to simply demand their postponement," Sadi said. "A vast majority of Cameroonians are also legitimately and impatiently aspiring to take part in the twin elections whose importance is secret to no one."
None of the protesters were arrested in the march that apparently suprised the government and the police.
Opposition parties have always complained of widespread irregularities, insecurity and low turnout in Cameroon's elections.
They say Biya who has been in power for over 40 years, seven as prime minister and 38 as president, uses his party's parliamentary majority to rule Cameroon with a iron fist.
Separatist fighters have also vowed that the elections will not take place in the English-speaking regions, and imposed a travel ban in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Civilians are fleeing 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.
Cameroon says polls will be opened on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Vote counting starts immediately afterward.
(( Moki Edwin Kindzeka for VOA news, Yaounde., Cameroon ))