Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Nigerian parties denounce elections

AP , LAGOS, NIGERIA

The two leading political opposition parties yesterday denounced the conduct of Nigeria's presidential elections, and one said it would likely launch a court challenge to the vote.

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 Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Neither of the two main opposition parties rejected the vote outright, saying they were waiting for full information from around the vast nation, but they described the exercise in disparaging terms.

"Some voting has taken place, but there was no election," said Abba Kyari, a spokesman for the party of General Muhammadu Buhari, considered one of the two top opposition candidates.

A spokesman for the party of Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who fell out with Obasanjo last year and is contesting the presidency as an opposition candidate, said the party would very likely challenge the results in court.

Saturday's vote "could not be termed free and fair by any imagination. We believe a lot of rigging has been done," Lai Mohammed said.

Electoral Commission Chairman Maurice Iwu on Saturday acknowledged some problems with the vote, including in a large swathe of the country's southeast, where voting started late or not at all. But he said the election had "gone smoothly, despite some problems."

Obasanjo on Saturday hailed the vote as a major step forward for democracy in Nigeria.

hopes

Despite disorder and confusion at many voting centers, there were few immediate reports of the widescale violence that plagued the electoral period, raising hopes that power could be transferred from one elected civilian president to another for the first time in the coup-prone 47-year history of Africa's top oil producer.

But an outright rejection of the election by the opposition could undermine any ruling party win.

Nigeria's mass daily Vanguard newspaper reported that 16 policemen died during Saturday's vote, including seven in a traffic accident. A week earlier, during a vote for state officers, Nigerian newspapers reported up to 50 dead in violence.

Competition for government revenues flowing from the oil industry means Nigerian political seats are hotly -- and often violently -- contested.

Dozens died in the run-up to the presidential and national parliamentary vote and violence continued in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday, with a failed truck bombing at the gates of the electoral commission headquarters in Abuja.

Many voting centers opened well after the official start, if at all, and those that did were plagued by delays and what the opposition described as irregularities. Polling hours were 10am to 5pm, but those still in line at 5pm were allowed to vote.

Presidential ballots distributed on Saturday in many parts of the country lacked serial numbers or any other unique distinguishing marks that would guard against fraud by allowing officials to track the papers from ballot boxes through collation centers.

no time

Iwu said there had been no time to print serialized ballots as one candidate had to be added this week.

In the main city of Lagos, some polling centers in opposition strongholds had only a fraction of the ballot papers needed, sparking accusations that their vote was being suppressed. In some parts of Lagos, voting material for the national legislature didn't show up at all and voting was postponed.

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