Powerful Nigerian opposition politician calls for election annulment
The Associated Press
By Edward Harris

A top opposition politician called for the annulment of Nigeria’s crucial presidential vote, as an overseas observer mission said the entire electoral process had failed to meet international standards.

The 59 observers of the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, the first major overseas group to announce findings after Saturday’s presidential election, identified numerous voting-day irregularities, including ballot box stuffing and phony results.

It said Sunday that its preliminary findings showed the elections processes “fall below the standard set by previous Nigerian elections and international standards witnessed by IRI around the globe.”

“Neither the spirit of Nigerians who went to the polls to cast their ballots nor the dedication of the thousands of poll workers struggling to execute their responsibilities in polling stations throughout the country were matched by their leaders,” the group said in a statement.

Turnout appeared low for Saturday’s presidential vote, which was marked by ballot-paper shortages in opposition strongholds, intimidation by thugs and open rigging favoring the ruling party of outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo.

One top opposition politician, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, earlier called for the annulment of the polls.

“I have already rejected the election. They have no alternative than to cancel the election altogether,” Abubakar said, referring to the electoral commission and to Obasanjo, a one-time running mate turned political foe.

The electoral process, which included an April 14 vote for state offices and Saturday’s vote for president and federal-level lawmakers, is meant to set up Nigeria’s first-ever handover of power between elected heads of state.

All other attempts since independence from Britain in 1960 have been overturned by coups d’etat or annulments. Dozens of Nigerians have died in civil strife related to the elections, and fraud was clearly visible on voting days.

The International Republican Institute, a respected vote-monitoring body, said during Saturday’s presidential polls it observed “underage voting, voter registration list errors, stuffed ballot boxes, group voting, party observers and police instructing individuals on who to vote for, lack of privacy for voting, lack of results sheets and other materials, falsified results sheets, and early closings.”

Meanwhile, the Transition Monitoring Group, an election-monitoring group claiming 50,000 Nigerian observers, said the elections had not been held in many of the country’s 36 states and had started very late in many others.

“That’s why we’re calling for the cancellation of the entire exercise,” said Innocent Chukwuma, the chairman of the body.

Abubakar told reporters that no free and fair election could be arranged by the current electoral commission, which he accuses of partisanship toward the ruling party, or by Obasanjo. He slammed the conduct of the vote.

“What we have seen clearly proves our fears that it is the worst election that we have ever seen,” he said.

The other main opposition party of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari didn’t immediately say it rejected the vote, but described it in disparaging terms.

“Some voting has taken place, but there was no election,” said Abba Kyari, a spokesman for the party.

Returns from the capital, Abuja, showed Buhari winning the federal territory. He gained about 91,000 of 200,000 votes cast, with the ruling party not far behind. Abubakar placed a distant third.

Abuja is a created capital, populated by civil servants during the week but largely empty on the weekend. Few people call it home or register to vote there.

The government defended the vote, with Electoral Commission Chairman Maurice Iwu saying Sunday that “the vote we had yesterday was free and fair. … The election has been largely successful: We’ve broken the jinx.”

He rejected the opposition’s challenges to the vote’s credibility.

“Anyone who says (the vote) was not free and fair wants to mess this country up,” he said. “There’s no question of legitimacy.”

But if opposition party supporters heed their candidates’ calls to reject the final outcome, it could undermine any ruling party win, pitting large segments of the population against each other.

Electoral officials said they hoped to release results by late Monday.

The presidential winner must gain the most votes nationwide and at least a quarter of ballots cast in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. If not, a runoff election would be held within one month. A new government will take power May 29.

Obasanjo, a former military ruler, won a 1999 election that ended 15 years of near-constant military rule. His 2003 re-election was marked by allegations of massive vote rigging. He was prevented from running again by constitutional term limits.

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