Cameroon’s borders have been closed, security personnel deployed across regions as voters head to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president.
Incumbent Paul Biya, 85, is seeking re-election for a seventh term amid ongoing violence and tensions in the country’s English-speaking southwest and northwest.
Biya faces an eleventh-hour attempt by the opposition parties to forge a unified front under Maurice Kamto, leader of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC).
Cameroon’s electoral commission has long faced accusations of unfairly favouring Biya, who has been in power since 1982, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers.
The opposition has accused the government of plans to rig the election, alleging that polling cards have been forged and that voter registration has continued despite the process being officially closed.
Prominent think-tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), wants the concerns of the opposition addressed.
“In the absence of agreement on the rules of the game, opposition activists could contest results, possibly with violence. Fraud, including vote-buying, ballot boxes stuffing and the falsification of results, all of which are common in Cameroon, make such protests all the likelier,” the group said in a statement.
Nkongho Felix Agbor, leader of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), told Al Jazeera he is unhappy with the lack of unity among the opposition.
“The failure of the principal opposition leaders to form a winning coalition might just be the reason why President Biya will be re-elected,” Agbor said.
“By handing President Biya victory on a platter of gold, these leaders would betray the trust of the Cameroonian people,” he said.
More than six million people have been registered to take part in the elections in the central African nation of 25 million people.
The election campaign in Cameroon was marked by violent clashes between security officials and opposition party supporters.
The growing fight over language in an officially bilingual country has killed hundreds of people and sent more than 200,000 people fleeing Cameroon’s southwest and northwest regions.
|Officials check ballot boxes before distributing them to polling stations for Sunday’s presidential election in Yaounde [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]|
Soldiers have been deployed after separatists threatened to disrupt voting in the English-speaking areas.
The violence was mostly reported from the opposition strongholds, where people had to flee their homes. Many who have been left behind have threatened to boycott the polls.
But the electoral commission said the polls will go ahead as scheduled, adding that some polling stations could be “relocated” to ensure a fair election.
Many election observers groups, including the African Union, have decided to skip the restive southwest and northwest regions.
“The danger of violence around the vote in Anglophone regions is high. But other parts of the country could also be affected,” the ICG said.
Last month, religious leaders in Cameroon warned of a spike in violence, and appealed to both the military and armed groups to drop their guns.
The government, however, says only the separatists should drop their guns.
In the north of the country, more than 230,000 people have been displaced as soldiers tackle Boko Haram fighters from neighbouring Nigeria.
|Soldiers have been deployed across the country after separatists threatened to disrupt voting [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]|
Separatist leaders in Anglophone regions want to secede and form their own country, called Ambazonia, resulting in their armed confrontation with the Cameroon military.
The armed movement grew out of frustrations in late 2016 by English-speaking teachers and lawyers with the dominance of the French language and the marginalisation of the country’s Anglophone population.
Attacks on symbols of Cameroonian authority, including police killings and kidnappings of civil servants, mounted while local officials fled Anglophone areas, fearing for their lives.
“An opposition victory will create an enabling environment for a long lasting and comprehensive solution to the Anglophone crisis,” Agbor said.
|Thousands of Cameroonian refugees are in Nigeria to avoid the violence in English-speaking regions [Al Jazeera]|
More than 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting and tens of thousands fled to Nigeria, according to the United Nations.
Soldiers have been accused of burning houses and killing residents in remote Anglophone villages.
The conduct of the Cameroon military was roundly condemned by human rights group, Amnesty International.
“The human rights violations committed by the Cameroonian security forces and authorities have also contributed to creating a pervasive climate of fear, which some observers say has led to a growing sense of alienation among communities in the Anglophone regions,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, Lake Chad Researcher at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.