The government sees the polls as a step towards greater regional autonomy, but opponents fear the vote will tighten President Biya’s grip on power.
Cameroon holds its first-ever regional election, which the government says gives more power to the provinces but which the opposition boycots as a sham.
In Sunday’s indirect polls, an electoral college of 24,000 people made up of regional delegates and traditional leaders will vote to fill the positions of 900 regional councilors – 90 for each of the country’s 10 regions – implementing a 1996 law that promised a decentralized government. but was never adopted.
City councils will have a say in development, including infrastructure such as roads, but they will not be able to change laws promulgated by the National Assembly and the Senate in the country’s capital, Yaoundé.
The government of President Paul Biya sees the polls as a step towards greater regional autonomy, hoping they will appease critics who say it has long neglected regions of the country and help end a four-year separatist conflict in the English-speaking region of the west.
But the two main opposition parties, Maurice Kamto’s Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) and the Social Democratic Front (SDF), both boycott the polls, saying they are not problems. local but of a way for the 87-year-old. head of state to tighten his grip on power.
Opponents say the vote offers only a semblance of regional autonomy and comes too late to settle the conflict, which has become the biggest threat in Biya’s nearly 40 years in power. They also claim that officials voting in the elections are overwhelmingly supporters of Biya and will help enforce his will in the regions.
“With most political opponents in prison, the opposition boycotts the vote saying it will not be credible with the ruling party likely to win most of the votes,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque said.
“In the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, separatists have warned people to stay indoors until their grievances for greater autonomy are dealt with.”
Separatist fighters have vowed to disrupt the vote in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon. They also said they would arrest anyone participating.
There were no early reports of disruptions at the time of publication. However, gunshots were heard around the town of Kumbo, according to a local official quoted by Reuters news agency.
In 2016, lawyers, teachers and others from the largely English-speaking regions of North West and South West Cameroon took to the streets to protest against the dominance of French in the education and legal systems, echoing the long-standing grievances from the country’s English-speaking minority over the perception of their region. marginalization by the central government dominated by Francophones.
The government’s brutal response to the protests was followed by the emergence of several armed separatist groups seeking to form a separatist state.
Human rights groups have accused both sides of committing atrocities in a conflict that has killed at least 3,000 people.
Amid a wave of arbitrary arrests and kidnappings, as well as extrajudicial killings and gratuitous destruction of homes and public facilities, the crisis has forced hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians to flee their homes in search of security, with nearly 60,000 crossing the border with Nigeria.