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Nigeria's Election Reform Group Ends Public Hearings


Nigeria's electoral reform panel, which is to recommend what should be done to improve elections, has concluded nationwide public hearings. Vote-rigging and violence have undermined free and credible elections in Africa's most populous country as Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports for VOA.

The ruling Peoples' Democratic Party was declared winner of 28 of 36 state governorship elections in the discredited 2007 ballot, while President Umaru YarAdua was named winner of the presidential poll with more than 70 percent of the vote.

But the elections were so chaotic, with widespread vote-rigging, ballot stuffing and intimidation that independent election observers said the results were not credible.

In response, President YarAdua inaugurated a 22-man electoral panel in August, 2007, with a call to bring Nigeria's elections to international standards.

Abdullahi Jalo, a ranking member of the Peoples' Democratic Party, says the president's commitment to free and fair elections in Nigeria is commendable.

"Let us be realistic," he said. "We have to start from somewhere and move forward. Had it been YarAdua came in and continued the former system we will say nothing has changed. There were some mistakes here and there, and he [YarAdua] says he wants to correct those mistakes, he should be given a chance."

Despite his massive win in 2007, critics say YarAdua is a tainted man, the beneficiary of an illegitimate election.

Nigeria courts have annulled the election of several officials since national polls more than a year ago.

YarAdua's challengers in the presidential race have appealed to the Supreme Court after a tribunal dismissed their complaints and turned down their demand for a rerun.

Public hearings of the committee gave Nigerians the opportunity to suggest ways to make future elections more credible.

The huge gains awaiting those in office, the lack of an independent election regulator and harsh punishments for violators of electoral laws emerged as some of the factors undermining the election process.

Jalo says any recommendations made by the panel will require considerable reform of the constitution.

"There must be a serious approach to amend some sections in our constitution," he said. "Some of the provisions of the constitution must be expunged to allow the electoral reform to work; otherwise you can't say you are going to make anything."

Public hearings commenced in May and the committee is expected to publish a report in August.


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