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Nigeria's Chaotic Election Process Fuels Pessimism


Observers, analysts and ordinary Nigerians are hoping for better presidential and legislative elections Saturday, following the chaotic gubernatorial and state assembly vote last week. There were serious irregularities and acts of violence, including cases of underage voting, electoral offices burned, ballot boxes stolen and dozens of people killed. A re-vote will be needed in two southeastern states, Imo and Enugu, while results are being contested in many areas. An official ban on rallies and the re-qualification of controversial opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar seem to indicate that challenges will be even greater for the upcoming poll. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the capital Abuja.

A main problem, according to Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani from the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, is the complicated rule that determines the winner of the presidential ballot.

A candidate must receive the highest numbers of votes, not an overall majority, but at least one quarter of votes in 24 of 36 Nigerian states.

"The process is very complicated. I am not sure if, at the end of the day, there will be a clear winner of the presidential election, given the stringent clauses that you have," he said. "I doubt very much, given ... what we have seen on Saturday, if that requirement will be met."

John Ikubaje, a Nigerian observer and program officer from the Center for Democracy and Development, says the Independent National Electoral Commission, known as INEC, needs to do much a much better job.

"I am a bit worried, even from my experience in the field, where we noticed so many abnormalities. We believe that a lot needs to be done. INEC needs to prepare very well. There have been some lapses. Names of some voters not on the lists, and many other problems that we saw in the field, we believe that INEC needs to prepare very well. Volunteers need to be accredited as early as possible," said Ikubaje. "We do not want a situation where elections that are supposed to start by eight o'clock, in some other places as we witnessed in the southeast, it started around three thirty."

Ikubaje also says someone, somewhere, whether in the police or at election headquarters, must take responsibility for making sure polling places are safe, as was not the case last Saturday.

"The killings, the snatching of ballot boxes in daylight, where police are present on the ground, it was not encouraging," he said. "We believe that if this type of issue is to repeat itself during the presidential election, I am afraid that the type of good governance that we are expecting we might not be able to get that type of good governance."

Ikubaje says, in one incident, observers feared for their lives when they witnessed ballot boxes being stolen. Crowds of angry voters thought the observers were conniving with the thieves. The observers had to seek safety in a nearby hotel.

An accounting student at Abuja University fears the upcoming election will be even more chaotic. She says she is for peace and calm, but that the ban on rallies indicates that more problems are looming.

"It is no good. I do not support that because that is something about democracy. You need to tell the people what you have for them, what your vision is, your plan for the people," she said. "Without the rallies, how will people know what you are willing to do or what you will be able to do for the people?"

If completed, the election will result in the first handover from an elected president to another since independence in 1960. Nigeria's outgoing parliament quashed efforts by supporters of President Olusegun Obasanjo to change the constitution and allow him to seek a third elected mandate.

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