Ben Muna warned of serious threats to national stability Tuesday, calling the ruling party’s push for an early presidential election with President Paul Biya seeking reelection potentially explosive.
The former presidential candidate and a leading critic of the Biya administration said the country was dug in several internal and cross-border tensions that were too inflammable for such politicking.
He cited “quasi-political” tensions in the far north, the war on Boko Haram and the rising voice of Anglophones protesting what they term systematic segregation and assimilation as potential fuels for open conflict.
Muna became the latest critic of an early poll, as Biya’s supporters stayed on course – expanding to every part of the country – with their clamour for the next presidential to he held two years earlier, possibly by September this year.
“This is certainly not in the public interest,” Muna said in an interview, rejecting the argument put forward by members of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM).
If Biya yields to his followers, he could extend his stay in power beyond 2018. He is 83 years old and has governed for 33 years, longer than only three other non-monarch world leaders.
Despite deadly protests, he changed the constitution in 2008 and eliminated a provision that would have barred him from seeking re-election in 2011.
Conditions at this time are not similar to 2008 and other times in the past when Biya tweaked the democratic process to his advantage, Muna said.
The ongoing war against Boko Haram in the Far North is part of a “quasi-political situation” that can turn violent if some northern elite act on openly expressed desires to retake power, Muna said.
“Some of their barons, like Marafa Hamidou Yaya are in jail. There are protests in Europe and America calling for his release and he is actually refereed to as a political prisoner.”
An apparent Anglophones uprising also changes the dynamics, he added.
“The atmosphere in the North West and South West at this particular time is not a peaceful atmosphere: Common law layers are agitating for constitutional change that will preserve the acquired common law principles and values; SWELA (South West Elite Association) is agitating because English and the system of English education are being eroded and there is treating that the headquarters of the CDC would be removed from the South West.”
Biya refrained from commenting on his political future, when asked last year if he would seek a new term. Analysts see the on-going calls as the best indication that the president does not intend to leave power very soon.
“It is a well-known and well beaten track,” Muna said, referring to the new “people’s call’. “I am quite certain that Biya is going to heed to this call because that is how it starts. I think that it a well-orchestrated propaganda.”
At the heart of the debate is managing a peaceful transfer of power. Biya does not have a known successor and many fear his departure could spark infighting in the ruling party at best and inter-ethic/inter-regional clashes at worst.
“We do not know the state of Biya’s health and it may be that his health is deteriorating and he feels that he needs to quickly grab another five years in order to put his house in order,” Muna said.
Western country’s are also banding to see and end to Biya’s long rule. Most diplomatic missions are secretly in favour of power change, at least by 2018 or through a sudden vacancy, according to private conversations with diplomats.
Getting his supporter to ask for a revised constitution that cuts back the presidential term to five years allows Biya to evade pressure to step down in 2018 and get three extra years in power this year, Muna said.
Senate president Niat Njifendji is in line to takeover temporally if Biya leaves power without an election. But the president’s backer also want that rule changed to have a successor with full executive powers, maybe a vice president.
However Biya manages his transition, if it falls short of free and fair elections, Muna predicts chaos. The ruling party will implode into many fronts, he said.