Voting starts in Cameroon

2011-10-09 16:28

Yaounde - Voting got off to a slow start on Sunday in Cameroon's presidential elections, which incumbent Paul Biya seems assured of winning to extend his 29-year rule.

The 78-year-old veteran is seeking a sixth term against 22 other candidates, with opposition complaining that his control over the electoral system is so complete the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Biya ended his campaign with a rare appearance on Saturday in Kribi, in his native south, while his main rival John Fru Ndi staged a large rally in the capital Yaounde.

At one polling station in Yaounde, electoral material did not arrive until 07:00 GMT, when voting should theoretically have started, and voters were already waiting outside. Voting did not start until 35 minutes later.

"I have the impression that things are going off smoothly, despite the slight delay. I wanted to vote early because I have other things to do today," mathematics teacher Noa Etienne, the first to cast his ballot, told AFP.

"I hope everything will go off openly and the best one will win. But I have to point out that the ink is not indelible," he said, showing that the ink, supposed to prevent voters casting multiple ballots had already disappeared from his finger only two minutes after voting.

On paper, seven million people are eligible to vote on Sunday.

But although voter cards were still being handed out on Saturday, one electoral officer in Yaounde said: "Not many people are coming to take them."

Low turnout expected

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he added: "In a week, we have only been able to distribute 600 cards, while we received 1 500 of them."

More than 6 000 election observers have been accredited to monitor voting at more than 24 000 voting stations across the country - and some abroad.

But turnout is expected to be low.

The authorities have stepped up security in the main towns and cities in case of trouble.

On September 29, two grenades were found in a voting station at Elecam in the Limbe region in the southwest of the country.

The same day, according to local press reports, men in military fatigues fired shots at the bridge over the Wouri river at Douala.

The markets were busy on Saturday as people stocked up on food, in anticipation of possible post-election unrest.

"My aunt is getting ready to go to market to do the shopping," said 25-year-old Raissa. "We don't know if things are going to go well or not tomorrow."

Spoil votes

There were food shortages in February 2008, as people rioted against the high cost of living and moves by the president to end the limit on presidential mandates - reforms that were passed a few weeks later.

Official figures put the death toll during the unrest at 40; rights groups said the true figure was 139.

France's consulate advised its citizens living in Cameroon to avoid voting stations, to stay away from crowds and only to go out if strictly necessary.

Rap star General Valsero, an outspoken critic of Biya, even called on people to return blank voting slips, saying none of the 23 candidates deserved their support.

"The opposition can't get itself together," he said, accusing the leading figures of selfishness for having failed to unite their forces.