Cameroon's opposition says postponing elections is president's ploy to stay leader for life

Lawmakers with the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement passed a law on Tuesday extending their term of office for one year. The lawmakers were elected in 2020 to serve a five-year term expiring on March 10, 2025. But this week, President Paul Biya asked his government to pass a bill extending terms for all 180 members of Parliament by 12 months — well into 2026. Biya's Cameroon People's Democratic Movement — also known as CPDM — holds 156 of parliament's 180 seats. Government officials say Cameroon's constitution gives Biya the power to consult the Constitutional Council and ask parliament to vote on extensions and postpone elections whenever circumstances warrant. Joshua Osih, a lawmaker and president of the opposition Social Democratic Front, disagrees. Osih said the Social Democratic Front Party he leads strongly condemns as undemocratic the law extending the mandate of parliamentarians, postponing parliamentary elections in Cameroon from February 2025 to February 2026. He said the Cameroon government had five years to prepare for fresh polls in 2025 and should not give the impression that it was taken by surprise. Opposition and civil society groups say Biya ordered CPDM lawmakers to vote on the bill because it makes it difficult for some main opposition leaders, including Maurice Kamto of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement Party (CRM), to be a candidate in presidential elections expected in October 2025. Opposition says win was stolen Kamto claims he won Cameroon's October 7 presidential polls and that his victory was stolen by Biya. In 2020, his party did not take part in local council and parliamentary elections claiming that Biya had planned to rig the polls in favor of CPDM. Cameroonian laws state that a political leader who aspires to be president must be in a political party that has at least a municipal councilor or is represented by a lawmaker in parliament. Kamtos' CRM party has neither. The CRM said it expected to take part in February's local and parliamentary elections to be able to endorse Kamto. Kamto said the law extending the term of parliamentarians, along with a presidential decision postponing local elections, is another ploy by 91-year-old Biya to remain leader for life. Kamto said he wants to reiterate to the government of Cameroon that his party and followers will not tolerate plans by Biya to stay in power. He said Biya and his government should not continue to take civilians for granted by abusing democratic rights and ruling the country with an iron fist. Kamto said he will disrupt the elections if his rights are abused but did not say how. The government said joint local council and parliamentary elections will take place in 2026 after presidential elections in 2025. Kamto said although Cameroon laws make it possible for presidential aspirants who are not endorsed by political parties to run, submitting 300 signatures from influential politicians, including former ministers, traditional rulers and religious leaders, as the law states, is very difficult. He said the leaders are either scared of Biya or are his political partners. Biya has not said if he will be a candidate. But last March, CPDM supporters marched in the streets urging the world's oldest leader to run for office in the 2025 presidential election, potentially extending his more than four-decade rule. They said Biya is the only one who can bring peace and development to Cameroon, but the opposition says Biya must leave office after running Cameroon for decades. Biya rules with an iron fist and is not ready to relinquish power until he dies, opposition and civil society say. But Biya's supporters say he is a democrat and has won all elections since Cameroon's 1990 return of multi-party politics. If reelected, Biya will rule up to 2032. By then, he will be 98 years old.