The Republic of Cameroon is divided into 10 administrative provinces, each placed under the jurisdiction of a governor appointed by the head of state. Each province is subdivided into departments, which are under the administrative control of divisional officers ( préfets ). In turn, departments are composed of subdivisions ( arrondissements ) headed by assistant divisional officers ( sous-préfets ). Municipal officials are elected for five-year terms. Traditional institutions such as chiefdoms were in noticeable decline during the 1970s and 1980s, although traditional rulers were treated as administrative adjuncts and received a government salary.
In 1996, Biya's government organized relatively free and fair municipal elections where opposition candidates won in nearly every major city. However, three-fourths of the local councils are dominated by the ruling coalition. Municipal elections for 336 local councils were held on 30 June 2002, and were charged by church leaders and opposition politicians as being flawed; vote-buying, stuffing of ballot boxes, intimidation, and multiple voting were among the accusations brought by the opposition. In January 2003, Biya announced that the government would begin a major program of decentralization to complete the process of democratization begun by the June parliamentary and municipal elections.