Monday, April 23, 2007

Nigerian vote not credible, say EU observers

By Tom Ashby

Monday, April 23, 2007; 8:43 AM

ABUJA (Reuters) - European Union observers said Nigeria's presidential election could not be considered credible on Monday as early results showed ruling party candidate Umaru Yar'Adua set for a landslide win.

Outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo said elections were not perfect, but appealed to Nigerians not to lose faith in the democratic process.

The ballot for the first handover of power from one civilian leader to another in the vast oil producer was undermined by ballot-stuffing, violence and a shortage of millions of voting papers on Saturday.

"These elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and the process cannot be considered to have been credible," said Max van den Berg, chief EU observer, in a statement.

A local coalition of civil society observers called for the cancellation of the vote to allow a re-run in Africa's most populous country, scarred by decades of corrupt dictatorship since independence from Britain in 1960.

"The election was a charade. A democratic arrangement founded on such fraud can have no legitimacy," they said.

The EU observers called for urgent action over the election, but did not say if it should be cancelled and held again.

World leaders had expressed hopes that Nigeria, West Africa's economic powerhouse, would emerge as a major force for the spread of democracy across the continent.

Obasanjo appealed to any aggrieved parties to use legal avenues to seek redress, adding that results so far did not deviate from projections.


Partial results from a third of Nigeria's 36 states showed Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) with 9.8 million votes versus 1.3 million for his nearest rival, local media said. A definitive result is expected later on Monday.

But the figures also revealed more evidence of fraud. Results from one area of Delta state were cancelled because they showed more votes than registered voters. Residents had reported a near total absence of ballots on voting day.

Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 returned Nigeria to democracy, must step down after failing to rewrite the constitution and stay for a third term.

Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, the leading opposition candidate, said he would not accept the result and called on parliament to impeach Obasanjo.

The opposition said it might bring its supporters out on the streets if the PDP claimed victory.

About 65 people have been killed in violence related to both the presidential election and regional polls a week earlier in the world's eighth-largest oil exporter. World oil prices rose on Monday because of the fears of further violence.

The government said unnamed coup plotters were trying to discredit the poll after failing to blow up electoral headquarters on election day with a petrol tanker.

Police arrested protesters at the electoral headquarters in the capital Abuja on Sunday and banned all rallies.

Election commission head Maurice Iwu acknowledged some materials arrived late at polling stations but said the "big picture" was of a free and fair election.

Analysts had predicted Yar'Adua would win due to unrivalled funding and the powers of incumbency, but Buhari had been expected to put up a credible challenge because of widespread disaffection with poverty and crime.

(Additional reporting by Austin Ekeinde in Port Harcourt, Camillus Eboh and Estelle Shirbon in Abuja, Tume Ahemba in Lagos)

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