Biya, the life president? As the October elections approach, the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) is split down the middle on the issue of whether or not to limit the presidential term. Tansa Musa reports from Yaounde.

Author:Musa, Tansa
Position:Cameroon
 
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For sometime now, top conservative and reformist members of the ruling party have been haggling over the issue of whether the 1996 constitutional amendment which limited the presidential term to two seven-year stints was the right thing to do.

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Until the amendment, which followed the introduction of multi-partism in 1991, the country's president was elected for unlimited five year terms and was eligible for as many times as he wanted to run.

But recently, amid criticism, some senior members of the ruling CPDM are increasingly questioning the wisdom of limiting the presidential mandate and want President Paul Biya to stay longer.

"The president is elected by the people of Cameroon. I don't see why he should not be allowed to run as many times as he wants and as long as the people love him and vote for him. Let the people decide," argues Francoise Foning, a member of the CPDM central committee.

Her views are backed by the CPDM's deputy secretary general, Gregoire Owona, who urges Cameroonians to stand up and defend their interests and rights by pressing for a constitutional reform that placed no limitations on the presidential term.

At a recent rally. Owona called on party members to vote massively for Biya in the October elections.

When the constitution was a mended in 1996, extending the term of office to two seven-year terms, Biya had already served for 14 years. But since the change was not retroactive, he won his first seven-year term in 1977. At 72, (22 of them in power), Biya is one of the longest serving leaders in Africa, after Togo's Gnassingbe Eyadema, Seychelles Albert Rene (who has just announced his retirement) and Omar Bongo of Gabon.

Some sections of the local media are livid about the calls for more terms for Biya: "Another seven years to do what?", retorted the French language independent, Le Messager.

But some CPDM reformers oppose the calls for constitutional change, Chief Mila Assoute, a member of the party's central committee, told New African that party officials like Foning and Owona (considered die-hard CPDM conservatives) just want to make Biya life president.

"As far as I know, we have a working constitution that was modified very recently and there are no reasons what soever now for it to undergo another reform," Chief Assoute said, adding "I am not surprised that the call came from persons who were opposed to reforms within the party."

Foning, who is also one of Cameroon's successful business...

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