Vote counting in Cameroon continues after Sunday's polls. Meanwhile, the government has called opposition candidate Maurice Kamto an "outlaw" after he declared himself the winner of the presidential race.
For a moment the uproar was deafening at the party headquarters of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) in Yaounde on Monday, October 8. Standing amidst dozens of journalists and scores of party supporters, the crowd cheered as party leader Maurice Kamto declared himself the winner of the presidential election. "We've reached our goal. I have received a clear mandate from the Cameroonian people," said Kamto, who was one of seven opposition candidates who ran against Cameroon's longtime president Paul Biya.
Meanwhile, vote counting is still underway and the electoral body had initially announced that the full tally could take until October 22. Only the Constitutional Council can declare the results, Paul Atanga Nji, minister of the territorial administrations, announced. Cameroon's labor minister and secretary general of the ruling party, Gregoire Owona accused Kamto of breaking the law. "It's totally illegal," he said. "Kamto was not even represented at all the polling stations. It was impossible for him to count all the votes," he added.
On polling day, Sunday, October 9, around 6.6 million people were expected to go tot he polls. A number of local news outlets did publish preliminary results from some of the polling stations, but official results are not out yet.
This, however, did not keep the crowd at the MRC office from celebration. "Of course we have the results," said Etienne Fotso, a party member. "There were 24,000 polling stations. We were represented in all of them and we now have results from 20,000 of them," he alleged.
North will be the 'kingmaker'
For retired economist Bernard Ouandji, preliminary results are often not reliable enough to draw conclusions. Up to now, the opposition is using the results from the major cities as a basis for their calculation, as they can send their observer to these polling stations. "In the countryside, it's more difficult for the opposition to send its observers and agents," Ouandji told DW.
According to Ouandji, who is also a board member of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon party (UPC), only the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (RDCP ) managed to send its agents to 347 out of 360 wards. The party agents act as watchdogs, Ouandji says, so when they're not there, results can be rigged at the polling station level.
The election will be decided in the rural areas in the North, Ouandji believes. The northern region does not have a candidate of its own. "But the hero of the North is the state minister Bello Bouba Maigari who has been loyal to Paul Biya for 20 years," Ouandji explained.
In the crisis-ridden Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions, many polling stations remained closed. The situation was very tense and separatists tried to prevent people from voting, even though Biya is very unpopular in these regions.
The presence of party observers at the polling stations is vital to avoid vote rigging, says economist Bernard Ouandji
Reconciliation for a common solution?
Many Cameroonians believe that the election will be decided in Biya's favor. He has been in power for 36 years and according to the controversial Cameroonian novelist Patrice Nganang will win again because the election is a "farce." "He has a repressive system and he has the ability to manipulate the elections. He didn't even participate properly in his election campaign," Ngnang told DW. In late 2017 Nganang had himself been arrested for criticizing Biya. He was released in earlier this year.
Agbor Balla Nkongho, a lawyer and founder of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, is calling for a dialogue to address the Anglophone crisis. "We need a national reconciliation commission to find a common solution to the problem," says Nkongho, who himself demonstrated against the increasing dominance of the francophone structures in 2016.
He, however, sees it as a problem that the opposition failed to unite behind one candidate. On Saturday, a day before the elections the candidate Akere Muna surprisingly withdrew his candidacy to throw his weight behind Maurice Kamto. That might have actually given Kamto an extra push in the polls.
Cameroon must find peace
Despite the ongoing speculations over the results, many Cameroonian want one thing – a peaceful outcome. "I wish for peace and a president who makes sure that there is peace," Sebastian Bikele, a Yaounde resident, told DW. While the embattled English-speaking regions are under lockdown, the hope remains that a full-blown post-election crisis will not erupt.