Two leading opposition parties in Cameroon have declared they will boycott the February 2020 municipal and legislative elections to protest the government's failure to end the conflict in the western region and to effect political reforms.
The Social Democratic Front, which boycotted the opening of parliament over the conflict earlier this month, said on Thursday it would not take part in the polls if peace was not achieved before the elections.
"If peace does not return to the NWSW by February 2020, the SDF will withdraw from the twin elections," SDF vice chairman Joshua Osih said.
SDF's threat comes only days after Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) party leader Maurice Kamto called for the boycott of the February 9 elections over weak electoral laws and the anglophone crisis.
"Given the current electoral system, it is impossible to contest the result of the February 9, 2020 elections. If someone rigs or someone who could not even have been a candidate wins, you cannot contest the result and win," Prof Kamto said.
Authorities have warned that anyone propagating hate speech and defies authority in the run up to the elections will face the full force of the law, with Territorial Administration minister Paul Atanga Nji, saying party officials would be held accountable for "disruption of public order during political rallies."
Prof Kamto was arrested and jailed in January for leading what the government described as 'unauthorised protests against the results of the October 2018 presidential poll, which he claimed he won. The protests by his supporters were violently suppressed by security forces leaving at least six people with bullet wounds. He was released in October amid intense foreign pressure as government displayed commitment to the peace talks dubbed Major National dialogue on the anglophone question.
Mr Atanga Nji warned such belligerence would not be condoned this time round. "We lived through horrible scenes after the October 2018 presidential election where a candidate proclaimed himself winner, flouting the laws of the land. Such irresponsible behaviour should never repeat itself. Believe me, such behaviours will face bitter times," Mr Atanga Nji warned.
The conflict in the English speaking South West and North West regions of the country has since 2017 been the key threat to stability in the country, especially after incursion by separatists and jihadists took advantage of it leading to more than 3,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced.
The International Community, however, fears that massive boycott of the parliamentary and municipal elections would, besides denying the ruling CPDM of legitimacy, foment chaos.
Diplomats have since the major national dialogue at the end of September been meeting President Paul Biya and opposition groups at home and abroad to encourage implementation of its recommendations. The proposals include giving the anglophone region special status with regard to resource allocation and security. A Bill to operationalise that is among the business expected to be brought before parliament.
However, politicians in the region want autonomy under a federal structure and a rotational presidency, which President Biya has said is not subject to discussion. Last week three geopolitical groups -- the AU Commission, the Commonwealth and the International Organisation of the francophone -- pledged their support to efforts in addressing the conflict.