Oct. 11 (GIN) – Cameroon’s 78 year old president Paul Biya is claiming victory in a hotly disputed election that pitted the septuagenarian against 22 candidates. Long-time opposition contender John Fru Ndi called the exercise on Oct. 9 “a complete mess” and said they should be declared null and void.

“This election cannot give the winner any legitimacy,” said Joshua Osih, vice chairman of Fru Ndi’s Social Democratic Front. His view was echoed by Anicet Ekane of the Manidem party who predicted a court challenge on the results.

Nicknamed “the Sphinx”, President Biya has managed to keep a tight grip on power for almost three decades despite spending much of his time abroad.

Sunday’s election was marred by widespread delays, irregularities and the deaths of one opposition party worker and two policemen, although violent incidents were rare.

But France, Cameroon’s former colonial power which helped orchestrate Biya’s rise in 1982, reported seeing no serious violations in the poll.

“According to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, we can consider that they took place in acceptable conditions,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

Biya is a faithful Paris ally in this West African country widely considered a victim of gross misrule. According to a recent IMF review, “the Cameroonian economy has much higher growth potential that is not being translated into concrete business and employment opportunities.” The IMF warned of “unsettled payment obligations carried since 2009, the recapitalization of a major bank and unrealistic revenue estimates.” While 40% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, Biya, dubbed the “idle king” is frequently out of country in a posh hotel in Geneva or in his native village in southern Cameroon.

The country’s latest anti-poverty plans include heavy logging and deforestation in rural areas, dam building and mining which has put them on a collision course with environmentalists.