February 27, 2013 / 6:13 PM / 7 years ago

Cameroon's ageing Biya sets long overdue Senate vote

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Cameroon’s octogenarian President Paul Biya set a date on Wednesday for voting for a Senate called for in a 1996 law in a move that could clarify succession in the African oil producer.

Cameroon's President Paul Biya waves as he leaves following a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Cameroon passed the law some 17 years ago to create the Senate, but Biya’s government delayed holding polls, citing a lack of money.

The constitution says the head of the Senate would assume the interim in case of a mid-term presidential vacancy.

The poll is set for April 14, according to a decree read over state radio. No explanation was given for the decision to hold it.

Voters will elect 70 candidates to the proposed 100-person senate, while Biya will appoint the remaining 30, the decree said.

Biya, one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents, won a fresh seven-year term in 2011 polls broadly criticized as unfair and which observers said would likely be his last due to his age and speculation about his deteriorating health.

Security analysts have warned of chaos in central Africa’s largest economy if the 80-year-old president, who has kept an iron-fisted grip on power for more than 30 years, dies or retires before creating political space for possible successors.

Cameroon’s election commission, whose 18-member board was appointed by Biya, has extended a voter registration deadline in an effort to increase participation. Turnout during the 2011 presidential vote was around 25 percent.

“Many Cameroonians think the results of polls are known well before voting takes place...so elections are just a joke in this country,” said Matias Eric Owono Nguini, a university professor in the capital Yaounde.

Cameroon produced 22.37 million barrels of oil last year and expects output to rise another 9 percent in 2013 as new wells come online. The country is also the world’s fifth-ranked grower of cocoa.

Reporting by Tansa Musa; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Bate Felix and Michael Roddy

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