Cameroon’s opposition leader said his party would boycott February’s legislative and local elections, hardening his standoff with the authorities, which are also grappling with a deadly separatist insurgency.

This is the latest sign that President Paul Biya’s attempts to foster national reconciliation have faltered, after peace talks in September were boycotted by separatists and opposition politicians.

Maurice Kamto, the head of the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), called on other opposition parties, as well as civil society and religious groups, to join MRC in boycotting the elections on February 9.

“The electoral code is tailored to allow the current regime to cheat and remain in power forever,” he told a news conference.

Kamto has been mobilising dissent against Biya since losing what he says was a fraudulent presidential election in October.

Biya, who has governed Cameroon for nearly four decades, is seeking to calm unrest stoked by the vote as well as a separatist crisis that has cost 2 000 lives over the past two years.

Kamto was arrested in January after leading protests which security forces dispersed with live bullets and faced insurrection charges before a military court.

He was released last month in what the government said was a gesture of national reconciliation.

The separatist revolt, which began as peaceful protests by English speakers against what they see as their marginalisation by the French-speaking majority, now aims to create an independent state.

It has emerged as the biggest security challenge of Biya’s tenure, forcing half a million people from their homes.