Calls for Early Elections in Cameroon Highlight Succession Risk

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016 5.56pm/ BMI Research

BMI View: Calls by Cameroon's ruling party for presidential elections to be brought forward to Q117, instead of 2018, will exacerbate political tensions and draw attention to the uncertainty over President Paul Biya's eventual succession. Meanwhile, attacks by Boko Haram will pose an ongoing foreign threat.

The question of who will succeed Cameroon's long-standing President Paul Biya continues to pose the biggest domestic political risk to the country. The opposition has been protesting against calls by the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), to bring the next elections, which are scheduled for 2018, forward to early 2017.

Meanwhile, the threat of radical Islamist militant group Boko Haram is still the most significant external risk to Cameroon. This will pose a greater challenge, given attacks outside the northern regions are increasing. In our view, the regional military coalition will fail to achieve a victory by 2017.

Biya's Succession Poses Main Risk
The main domestic political risk facing the country in the medium term is the prospect of Paul Biya's presidential rule coming to an end. He is Africa's third-longest serving president, having been in power for 33 years and is 83 years old.

No suitable successor has been named or groomed, raising the likelihood of a destabilizing power vacuum when he retires or dies. Biya has long been presented by his supporters as a bastion of stability and as the only leader with the authority to effectively defend the country against attacks by Boko Haram.

According to the constitution, a President's death or resignation would trigger an election 20-40 days afterwards, and the President of the Senate would serve as acting President.

The current President of the Senate, Marcel Niat Njifenji, would not be permitted to stand in such an election, meaning another succession would subsequently be triggered.

Given the lack of a recognised and accepted successor in the CPDM, in addition to a weak opposition comprising a number of disparate parties, a leadership transition would likely lead to uncertainty and social unrest.

Protests by the opposition in the last few months display an increasing, and more active, dissatisfaction with the government. They oppose Biya's attempts to bring forward the election as it would give them less time to organise a cohesive coalition.

Further, many feel Biya has been in power for too long and a re-election bid would constitute his clinging to power for the rest of his life.

He is head of state and head of government, so holds concentrated power and is able to push through constitutional reforms quickly and with little opposition. The government wants to change the constitution again to allow for the early elections.

This is so Cameroon will have its election before France's, given President Francois Hollande is viewed as an ally of Biya. We believe although Biya will succeed in holding an early election and win a majority of the votes, staying longer would increase the risk of political opposition growing against him and his party.

We believe most opposition would come from outside the CPDM, which would make a smooth power transition even less likely if support for the ruling party were diminished.

No End to Boko Haram Threat In 2017
The threat of terrorist attacks will continue in 2017, with some attacks and security warnings expanding to the capital Yaounde. Although attacks have mostly been confined to the predominantly Muslim north, near the border with Nigeria, a warning Boko Haram insurgents had arrived in the capital added to the risk the Boko Haram attacks could spread.

The conflict has exacerbated social divisions between the Muslim North and Christian South, fuelling instability and sectarianism. Boko Haram's presence in Cameroon has been known since 2013, with attacks occurring in spaces such as markets and parks.

Although the government has and will continue to achieve successful defences against the group, we uphold our view the regional coalition consisting of Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger does not have the resources and manpower to accomplish a total victory against it by 2017.

Defence against Boko Haram will weigh on Cameroon's budget. A 13.5% increase in overall government expenditure in the 2016 budget was announced, partly attributable to a rise in military spending. These additional fiscal pressures, coupled with extensive infrastructure investment and lower expected revenues from the oil industry in 2016, is likely to lead to a higher deficit, rising to 7.4% this year, from 6.5% in 2015.

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