Cameroon’s Anglophone regions hit by violence during partial legislative polls
Voters from 11 constituencies located in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions were once again called upon to cast their votes for partial legislative elections, held on 22 March, after the Constitutional Council decided to nullify the 9 February vote. However, the latest round was marred by violence and aroused little interest.
In Bamenda, the administrative centre of the Northwest Anglophone region, violent clashes pitted Cameroon’s defence forces against armed groups near Ayaba Street in the heart of the city.
According to eyewitnesses, a group of suspected separatists initiated an attack aimed at disrupting the smooth running of elections on the afternoon of Sunday 22 March. Law enforcement officers got involved in the attack and gunfire was exchanged.
A non-official report stated that two civilians were killed by stray bullets.
The 9 February legislative elections were reorganised in 11 Anglophone region constituencies, including ten in the Northwest and one in the Southwest. According to the Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji, who voted early in the day in Bamenda, “no major incident likely to affect the smooth conduct of this by-election or its credibility has been reported by administrative authorities.”
ELECAM, the electoral board in charge of organising elections, announced that results will be known “in two weeks.”
Significant abstention rate
In all, 300,000 people were called upon to recast their votes, but voters massively abstained. Torn between fears over the potential for retaliatory attacks carried out by “Ambazonian” militias and the coronavirus epidemic, many voters chose not to make a trip to the polls, as was the case on 9 February.
“The situation wasn’t conducive to encouraging voter participation,” a Bamenda resident said. “And how can you simultaneously ask us to stay at home to avoid the coronavirus and go out and vote?”
In an attempt to reassure voters, ELECAM provided hydroalcoholic hand sanitiser at the entrance of each polling station.
“In a constituency like mine, which has nearly 120,000 voters, less than 10% of them were actually able to exercise their civic duty,” said Nforbi Nchinda, a candidate representing the Social Democratic Front (SDF, opposition party) in Bali, not far from Bamenda. According to Nchinda, this is due to the fact that many polling stations were “more often than not located far away from people’s homes.” If he is to be believed, the abstention rate could be even higher than it was in early February.