YAOUNDE, Cameroon Polls closed in Cameroon Sunday evening and vote counting began in an election that will likely see Africa’s oldest leader win another term amid fighting and threats from separatists that prevented residents in English-speaking regions from voting.
President Paul Biya, in office since 1982, vows to end a crisis that has killed more than 400 people in the Central African nation’s Southwest and Northwest territories in more than a year. The fractured opposition has been unable to rally behind a strong challenger to the 85-year-old leader.
Fear is rife here in Buea as anglophones brace for violence after separatist fighters vowed war on voting day. “Everybody is scared because the separatists say that Buea is the capital of Ambazonia and they could attack,” journalist Tilarious Aznohnwi Atia told DW. “Whenever the separatists attack, the military retaliates and attacks neighborhoods and ransacks houses,” Atia said, adding that ordinary citizens continue to suffer.
The separatists had vowed that no political campaigns or elections would take place in their country, which they call “Ambazonia.” Only one political rally was held in Buea, but none of the candidates, including the incumbent president, dared to meet voters in the volatile region.
Gun fighting between the military and separatists began Saturday in at least six towns and villages including Nkambe, Mamfe and Kumbo.
Several buildings have been burned, including residences where voting material was thought to have been stored.
Several armed men had been killed by military in the Southwest region, Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai confirmed.
“The wave of attacks will not deter us from doing our job,” said Enow Abrams Egbe, chairman of ELECAM, the election commission.
Security has been increased and people should not be afraid to vote, said Cameroon’s territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji.
The Election Commission and government said they made provisions for displaced voters, but it was not clear people came out amid threats by separatists.
Cameroon also battles with Boko Haram extremists in its Far North, where more than more than 230,000 people have been displaced. The election commission said voters lined up at voting stations for displaced persons in the north
More than 6.6 million people across Cameroon were registered to vote.
All voters in the English-speaking regions had to be screened, present voter’s cards and identity cards before they were able to cast their ballots. Numbers were low at the start of the vote Sunday.
In the French-speaking regions, however, thousands line up eager to vote.
“I have performed my civic duty. It indicates I am a true Cameroonian. I voted for Biya because he is the one who promised to improve the health care system,” said Julienne Ngono, a voter at the Bastos primary school polling center where president Biya will vote.
Even if Biya wins, his mandate could be weakened if voter turnout is low in Anglophone regions.