Cameroon´s Elections Postponed After a Rocky Start

Church Deployed 50 Observers During Sunday´s Balloting

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YAOUNDE, Cameroon, JUNE 24, 2002 ( The Catholic Church deployed 50 observers Sunday — far fewer than the 810 it hoped for — in Cameroon´s parliamentary and municipal elections, the Misna missionary agency reported.

Four million citizens were eligible to vote, but the elections were eventually halted for logistical problems, and Cameroon´s president dismissed his Interior Minister, who was responsible for organizing the balloting.

Balloting had already started in some areas when a presidential decree was broadcast on state-run radio postponing the two votes until June 30, the Associated Press reported.

The political scene in this western African nation of 15.8 million focuses on two groups: President Paul Biya´s Democratic Union of the Cameroonian People, which has an absolute majority in the National Assembly (116 seats), and John Fru Ndi´s Social Democratic Front (43 seats).

The process was supervised for the first time by the National Elections Observatory (ONEL), established in 2001.

ONEL was harshly contested by the opposition, which instead has demanded that an independent electoral commission be established. The opposition accused ONEL´s 11 members of favoritism, given that the majority is aligned with the government.

In addition to the 20,000 ONEL observers deployed throughout the country, the Catholic Church also asked 50 representatives to supervise the elections.

The Church´s action was revealed by Pierre Titi Nwell, president of the episcopal conference´s Justice and Peace Commission. The Church hoped to deploy 810 observers, but administrative authorities drastically curtailed the number.

«Our objective goes well beyond the elections,» Nwell explained. «It is a long-term contribution to construct a Cameroon where it will no longer be necessary to have observers to guarantee the transparency of the electoral operations and where human rights are rigorously respected.»

Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, archbishop of Douala, spoke along the same lines. He urged everyone to go to the polls and to vote only for competent and honest candidates able to commit themselves, among other things, to the struggle against corruption, poverty, unemployment and AIDS, and to the education of youth.

English-speaking separatists urged voters in two English-speaking provinces to boycott the elections. National Council of Southern Cameroon (SCNC) activists said they would organize «parallel elections» in the two provinces and regard anyone who voted in the governmental headquarters as a traitor.

The separatists urged the Church to stay out of the electoral process. Among the initiatives of the SCNC is the creation of a new independent state to be named the Republic of Southern Cameroon.

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