Nigerian Opposition, Monitors Want Vote Voided
The Washington Post
By Craig Timberg

The two leading opposition candidates and the largest independent observer mission on Sunday denounced this weekend’s presidential election, saying rigging and incompetence had so tainted the process that only a new vote could correct it.

As ballots were still being tallied, election observers and journalists reported numerous cases of blatant ballot-box stuffing, intimidation and other apparent efforts to skew results in favor of the party of outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of Nigerian pro-democracy organizations with 10,000 monitors across Nigeria, said the election effectively never occurred in 13 of the country’s 36 states. And presidential ballots everywhere lacked serial numbers that might have prevented fraud. Polls opened late, and in many places not at all.

Including state and local votes held a week earlier, the election season was the worst in Nigeria’s troubled, eight-year-old democracy, said Innocent Chukwuma, head of the observer group. He called for cancellation of the results, a new election commission and an urgent convening of the National Assembly to address the problems.

“That is the only way this country can go forward,” he said. “We cannot allow these sham elections to continue.”

The election was supposed to produce the first transfer of power between democratic governments in Nigeria’s history. Obasanjo is scheduled to step down next month, when his second four-year term ends.

Analysts expect Obasanjo’s pick for successor, northern governor Umaru Yar’adua, to win, mainly because of the powerful election machinery of the ruling party. Yar’adua’s leading opponents are Vice President Atiku Abubaker and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari. The first results, from Rivers state in the volatile oil-producing Niger Delta region, indicated high turnout and landslide support for Yar’adua.
Increasingly, plans for the change in government are clouded.

Senate President Ken Nnamani, a member of the ruling party, has repeatedly criticized the conduct of the election. He plans to convene the National Assembly in Abuja, the capital, on Tuesday following calls to reject the presidential results.

Abubaker told reporters in Abuja: “This is the worst election ever in Nigeria. . . . They have no alternative than to cancel the election altogether,” according to the Reuters news service.

Buhari, speaking in his northern home state of Katsina, also rejected the election, Reuters reported. He called for the Nigerian Senate to impeach Obasanjo and for opposition protests.

If Yar’adua is announced the winner, Buhari said, “It is likely to be a fatal blow to Nigerian democracy.”

Several major international observer missions are scheduled to issue reports Monday.

Former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, chairman of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a U.S. government-funded pro-democracy organization, said that amid some encouraging signs in Nigeria, such as the growing independence of the judiciary and the energy of civil society, the quality of elections is deteriorating.

“In a number of places and in a number of respects, the electoral system has failed the Nigerian people,” Albright said in an interview in Abuja. “The trend line on elections is not going the right direction.”

The U.S.-funded, Washington-based International Republican Institute said in a preliminary report Sunday night that the election had not met international standards. It urged disputes to be resolved through Nigeria’s court system.

“A peaceful constitutional process must be allowed to unfold, and there must be creditable avenues of redress. Over the last year, Nigeria’s Supreme Court and legislature have demonstrated an ability to resolve important political disputes with independence and integrity,” said the report, which was issued in Abuja.

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