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Nigeria to Hold Legislative Elections Saturday - 2003-04-11


Nigeria is going ahead with legislative elections Saturday, despite calls by some political activists who want the poll postponed due to fears of violence and fraud. Presidential elections will follow on April 19, in what many say will be a test of the strength of Nigeria's four-year-old democracy.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who will seek re-election on April 19, has decided to go ahead with the poll, despite pressure from political opponents who wanted him to postpone the election.

The run-up to the general elections has been marred by ethnic clashes, and charges by the opposition that some politicians may be preparing to commit fraud.

The latest snag came this week, when many complained that Nigeria's Independent Electoral Commission had been slow to issue voter registration cards to the more than 50 million people who are eligible to cast ballots in these elections.

Commission officials finally decided that people will be able to vote as long as their names appear on the voter registration lists on election day.

Groups in Nigeria's mostly Muslim north, a bastion of the opposition, called on Mr. Obasanjo to delay the vote, saying they believe a lack of organization and a recent spate of ethnic violence may trigger a wave of unrest.

These elections will be the first to be held since Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, made the transition from military to civilian rule in 1999. In what some say is a sign of a maturing democracy, nearly 30 parties will take part in the poll this year - compared to only a handful in 1999.

Nigerians on Saturday will choose 109 members of the Senate and 360 members of the lower House of Representatives. President Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party currently controls both chambers of the National Assembly.

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