YAOUNDE, CAMEROON – Cameroon’s ruling party scored a landslide victory in the country’s first regional elections, winning nine of the country’s 10 administrative regions. The victory has triggered fears the party will not relinquish some powers to regional governments – a promise made to end the ongoing separatist crisis in two western regions.  Central government officials are promising to reduce their grip on power.

The electoral commission said the CPDM, the party of longtime President Paul Biya, won a majority of the seats in nine of the central African state’s 10 regions. The opposition National Union for Democracy and Progress won control of one region. Each region has a council of 70 seats.

Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019.   REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Joel Emmanuel Bitounou of CPDM won a seat in the southern town of Ebolowa. He says he expects the central government in Yaoundé will for the first time since independence in 1960, relinquish some of its power.

He says the hypercentralized system left over from the colonial period is old and outdated. He says that by successfully conducting the elections, Cameroon has given a strong indication that it is open to decentralization. He says the regions are now expecting some financial and administrative autonomy.

No political party has contested the results. The government says it is counting on the regional elections to end the separatist crisis in the western English-speaking regions, where armed groups want to break away from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.

Under the new system, each region will have regional bodies responsible for economic, health, social, educational, sports, and cultural development affairs.

The central government in Yaoundé says it will transfer some of its powers to the regions and, starting next year, the regions will be able to recruit hospital staff and teachers and build some of their infrastructures. The government says it will also give 15% of its 2021 budget to the regions to manage.

The elections end a process that will implement a special status for the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions, as decided during a 2019 grand national dialogue that was held in Yaoundé.