Cameroon's veteran strongman Paul Biya wins seventh presidential term

Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his wife, Chantal Biya.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his wife, Chantal Biya.
Image: ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist since 1982, won a landslide victory Monday in a controversial presidential election as the government tightened security and gunfire erupted in the country's volatile English-speaking regions.

The Constitutional Council, dominated by Biya loyalists, said Monday the 85-year-old leader had won 71.3 percent of votes in the October 7 poll marred by allegations of widespread fraud, low voter turnout, and violence.

Council head Clement Atangana said opposition challenger Maurice Kamto, was a far second with 14.2 percent of the vote.

Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) candidate Kamto swiftly rejected the results, questioning the credibility and impartiality of the council.

"We solemnly and categorically reject these fabricated results and refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the head of state," he said in a video message, adding: "I continue to claim victory on this election."

The United States said voting irregularities cast doubt on the credibility of Biya's latest victory, and urged a peaceful way forward.

"While we welcome the Cameroonian Election Commission's demonstrable improvement over the 2011 elections, there were a number of irregularities prior to, during and after the October 7 election," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"These irregularities may not have affected the outcome but created an impression that the election was not credible or genuinely free and fair," she added.

The United Nations similarly called for Cameroon to rely on "legal channels" to resolve disputes over Biya's re-election.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "reiterates his encouragement to all stakeholders to prioritise dialogue as the surest path to social cohesion and national unity," a UN statement said.

- Results cannot be challenged -

Voting was disrupted in Francophone Cameroon's two English-speaking regions, where a separatist movement has unleashed a brutal crackdown. Turnout here was below five percent, according to the International Crisis Group think tank.

Witnesses told AFP Monday of gunfire during the morning in Buea, capital of the English-speaking Southwest region, which has been rocked by violence for months.

The Constitutional Council had 15 days after the vote to weigh objections filed concerning the election. It rejected all 18 complaints.

The final results cannot be challenged.

Biya notably won 79.7 percent of the vote in Adamaoua, 71.1 percent in the Centre region, and 90.4 percent in the East, the council said.

AFP journalists reported tight security around the main post office in the capital Yaounde after calls on social media for a protest rally against the results.

Anti-riot police trucks and security forces were deployed across the area.

Kamto, who pronounced himself the winner of the vote before even the first results were announced -- leading the government to brand him an outlaw -- has alleged that six of the Constitutional Council's 11 members were biased in Biya's favour.

Kamto was Monday declared the winner in the Littoral province -- the only one not won by Biya -- where he got 38.6 percent of the vote. The province is home to the country's commercial capital Douala.

Biya's main challenger has called for the vote to be annulled in seven of the country's 10 regions, citing "multiple irregularities, serious cases of fraud and multiple violations of the law".

- Quiet autocrat -

The army is deployed in the Southwest and the other Anglophone region, the Northwest, to hunt down scattered groups of separatists who seek the independence of these territories.

The historic opposition party based in the west, the Social Democratic Front, has long stood against Biya.

The party's failure to demand outright independence has roused calls of "treason" among hardliners.

Biya became prime minister in 1975, but precisely how he was anointed to succeed Cameroon's founding president Ahmadou Ahidjo in November 1982 remains a mystery.

Unlike more fiery and flamboyant peers in the club of long-standing African leaders, critics say Biya - nicknamed "The Sphinx" - is a quiet autocrat.

In a rare moment of candour, he once warned of his sweeping powers, telling a Cameroonian journalist in 1986: "Just a little shake of my head and you'll be reduced to nothing."

X