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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 October, 2004, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Cameroon's reluctant campaigner
By Randy Joe Sa-ah
BBC correspondent in Cameroon

Until recently, Monday's presidential election in Cameroon was remarkable for the fact that the incumbent had failed to campaign for his re-election.

Cameroon campaign rally
Campaigning in Cameroon has been a colourful affair

But after heavy criticism from the opposition and media for delegating his prime minister to campaign for him, Paul Biya has reluctantly - it seems - thrown himself onto the hustings with appearances at two campaign rallies.

Mr Biya, who has been in power for 22 years, is seeking another seven-year term.

No-one doubts that he will be successful.

Mr Biya, who is rarely seen in public, surprised many by attending rallies by helicopter in Monatele in South Province and Maroua in Far North Province spouting the catchphrase: "Things will change".

But his critics say this is still not good enough for a president who hardly ever meets the population and has famously held just one cabinet meeting in the past six years.

Campaigning

His main opponents have gone round the country campaigning solidly since the election date was announced.

President of Cameroon
Paul Biya has been president since 1982
But Mr Biya did not even convene a congress of his ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) to seek renomination.

He simply appeared on state TV and radio and declared himself candidate, without even mentioning the name of his party.

He said he was responding to calls from Cameroonians.

But critics say he was avoiding the challenge by party comrade Milla Asoute who had declared his intention to run for president.

Though Mr Biya vowed during the 1997 presidential election campaign to fight corruption and inertia, these vices remain rife in the country and he failed to mention them in campaigning this time round.

Neither did he make mention of another earlier campaign slogan, "rigour and moralisation".

The opposition says he prefers not to remember these "failures".

Campaign posters show the president leading ordinary Cameroonians like a biblical Moses taking his followers to the promised land.

'Political amateurs'

And appearing in the company of his wife Chantal, Mr Biya was withering in his contempt for the opposition, who failed to agree on a single candidate to oppose him.

Fru Ndi
Mr Fru Ndi claims the 1992 election was stolen from him
He described them as political amateurs who would lead Cameroon into anarchy, disintegration and diplomatic isolation

"Who are these magicians who want to make Cameroon a paradise with a magic wand? Let them get themselves united before dreaming of changing Cameroon."

Among the 16 candidates, only John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front and Adamu Ndam Njoya of the Cameroon Democratic Union have toured all the 10 provinces of the country.

Big crowds

Mr Fru Ndi, who has strong backing in the two predominantly English-speaking regions, walked out of the opposition coalition.

He has pulled the biggest crowds with up to 30,000 people attending his Douala rally.


His action plan includes combating corruption, alleviating poverty and reinstating salaries to the previous scales for workers.

"We shall scrap school fees at the university. Small business people will not pay taxes," he told cheering crowds at the rallies.

It is the third time he has run for president and it was widely believed that he won the 1992 presidential election, when he accused Mr Biya of stealing his victory.

Now he is warning that he is "ready to fight if Biya frauds again".

Many Cameroonians believe the opposition can only win if they present a single candidate.

But the Coalition for the Reconstruction and Reconciliation of Cameroon (CRRC), which they tried to put together was fatally weakened when Mr Fru Ndi walked out accusing his fellow coalition party leaders of dishonesty.

Their candidate is Adamu Ndam Njoya.

Sixteen Commonwealth observers, led by former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark, are monitoring the electoral process.

"Our objective will be to arrive at a broad overview of the democratic environment and the electoral process as a whole, rather than the outcome," he told a news conference.

Some 4.6 million Cameroonian voters out of a population of 16 million are due to go to the polls on 11 October.




SEE ALSO:
Cameroon leader seeks a new term
16 Sep 04  |  Africa
Cameroon election bid challenged
29 Sep 04  |  Africa
Cameroon players back president
06 Sep 04  |  Africa
Timeline: Cameroon
27 Apr 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Cameroon
14 Jul 04  |  Country profiles


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