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Some Nigerian Groups Reject Electoral Changes

Several Nigerian opposition parties and pro-democracy groups have rejected broad electoral reforms approved by the Cabinet and insist more fundamental changes are needed to guarantee free and fair elections in Africa's most populous nation.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili told reporters at the end of a Cabinet meeting that politicians convicted of violence and unruly behavior during elections could be barred from holding public office for 10 years. She said the government also plans to set up an electoral offenses commission.

"Establishment of an electoral offenses commission to, among other things, deter the commission of electoral malpractices, investigate when they occur and prosecute alleged offenders," she said.

The country's Independent National Electoral Commission will receive funds in a way to guarantee its financial and administrative independence, but the president retains the power to appoint the head of the electoral commission.

An Abuja-based election campaigner, Alliance for Credible Elections, says a truly independent election regulator is fundamental to achieving the much talked about electoral reforms.

"The fundamental issue of who controls INEC is not answered by the reform framework being proposed by the president," said Emma Ezeazu, who heads the group. "Indeed the president still retains control of INEC. This time around, it is one INEC, there is no state INEC. So the president's control of the election machinery has become stronger than it was before."

The 2007 polls were billed as a democratic milestone in Africa's top oil-producing nation, marking the first transfer of power from one elected leader to another since 1960 when Nigeria gained independence from Britain.

But the elections were so chaotic, with widespread vote-rigging, ballot-stuffing and intimidation, that Nigerian and foreign observers said they were not credible.

The ruling Peoples' Democratic Party was declared winner of 28 out of 36 state governorship elections, while President Umaru Yar'Adua was named winner of the presidential poll with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Since then, around a third of the country's governors have had their election victories annulled due to poll irregularities, while many other cases are pending in courts.

The information minister said electoral changes requiring administrative action will be put in effect immediately, while those needing constitutional or legal amendments would be forwarded to the national assembly.