Cameroon opposition calls for single candidate to face Biya in next election

Cameroon's President Paul Biya in Yaounde, July 26, 2022. [AFP]

Leaders of Cameroon's main opposition party say they are negotiating with more than 30 opposition leaders to present a single candidate in the next election, should 91-year-old President Paul Biya be incapacitated by ill health.

The opposition reacted after Biya, who has ruled for more than four decades, made no mention of running for re-election in a New Year's message.

Maurice Kamto, president of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement Party, said scores of civil society and political opposition members have set up a platform called the Political Alliance for Change, also known as the PAC, to press for Biya to relinquish power.

The 91-year-old has been president since 1982 and is the world's oldest political head of state.

Elections to take place by late 2025

Presidential elections are to take place in Cameroon by October 2025, but civil society groups and opposition parties expected Biya to announce, during his New Year's message, early elections in 2024. That didn't happen.

Kamto said he has been chosen by the PAC as a single opposition candidate, should Biya resign or is incapacitated. He said supporters of Biya's CPDM party, who are fed up with Biya's autocratic rule, should join the PAC.

"The PAC remains open to all those who believe that the current regime is now Cameroon's problem and therefore can no longer contribute anything to its recovery," said Kamto. "Our compatriots in the ruling CPDM party who demonstrate a patriotic reawakening are also welcome in the PAC. Let them come and take their place in the train of national renaissance."

Kamto said he would revive all state institutions he said Biya has ruined, organize an inclusive national dialogue to end the separatist crisis that has claimed more than 6,000 lives in Cameroon's western regions, and improve living conditions for those stuck in hunger and poverty.

According to Cameroon's constitution, if Biya dies, resigns or becomes incapacitated, Marcel Niat Njifenji, the 89-year-old president of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, would take power, and organize elections for a new president within 120 days.

In his message, Biya did not say anything about plans to leave power or not, but blamed the country's current hardships and armed conflict on high levels of corruption and external factors.

Biya said Cameroon, like other African countries, is dealing with an economic crisis caused by the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Biya said when the world expected an end to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the resurgence last October of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened rifts in the international community and further sunk the world's economy. Biya said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is leading to price hikes in consumer products and, consequently, the cost of living. He said the conflict is also causing shortages of petroleum products.

Despite the challenges, Biya said Cameroon had a 3.7% economic growth rate in 2023 and inflation was contained at less than 7%.

Cameron's opposition disputed that, saying the economic growth rate is less than 2% and inflation is running above 20%. They say Biya is responsible for what they say is an economic disaster in Cameroon, a country blessed with a variety of minerals that could be exploited to develop the central African state but were misused by the Biya government.

Biya hard to beat, say experts

The Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa said that Cameroon's fragmented opposition, which is made up of about 400 political parties, will find it difficult to beat Biya or any CPDM candidate in an election.

Kamto said all the opposition and civil society groups should, for once, rally behind a single candidate, should early elections be called or when presidential elections come up by October 2025.