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Delays in Electoral Law Could Push Back Nigerian Presidential Vote


Nigeria's electoral commission says delays in enacting new electoral laws could push back presidential elections scheduled for January.

Electoral commission chairman Attahiru Jega says confusion about the laws governing this vote are delaying clear timetables for voter registration and candidate nomination. He says the Independent National Electoral Commission - INEC - cannot properly do its job.

"We are working on an electoral timetable and preparing comprehensive guidelines for voters, political parties, security agencies, election observers, as well as our own INEC staff for the elections. However, the uncertainties about the legal framework for the conduct of the elections have constrained our preparations," he said.

Nigerian lawmakers last month changed the constitution to hold elections in January, instead of April, to allow more time to resolve potential legal challenges before the start of the new presidential term in May. But the Electoral Act of 2010 also allows more time for voter registration and is now before the courts to decide, among other things, whether President Goodluck Jonathan must approve the changes before they become law.

Jega says that uncertainty is further delaying the work of an electoral commission that is already two weeks behind its own timetable.

"The commission has planned its activities on the understanding that these amendments have been consummated and finalized. Instead, there have been controversies over whether the president has to assent to the constitutional amendment or not," he said.

Nigerian Minister of State for Information Labaran Maku says there is nothing unusual about President Jonathan taking his time to review new electoral rules.

"If a law is passed to a sitting president, it is not just for a rubber stamp," he said. "The president is not a rubber stamp. His duty is to go through this law and ensure that there is nothing in it that will cause problems during elections or that will be difficult to enforce. So his duty is to ensure that the law that is forwarded to him is in accordance with the constitution and is something that is easily operable."

Maku says the legislation is currently making its way through administration reviews, including the justice ministry, and that due process takes times.

"Of course the president is familiar with the anxiety on time," he said. "In the history of Nigeria, there has not been any president who has shown so much concern for free and fair elections as this president. He has taken actions that we are not usually familiar with in Nigeria. He has appointed an honest and independent team in INEC to ensure that the elections are free and fair."

President Jonathan has not yet said whether he intends to run in this vote. His candidacy would disrupt a regional power sharing agreement following this year's death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. Although the ruling party says Mr. Jonathan has the right to run, he is already facing several prominent challengers.

Jega says the electoral commission's interest here is process, not politics.

"Our position remains that we are bound by whatever existing legal architecture is provided to us, and we need not be drawn into controversies over such issues," he said.

If the constitutional amendments are overturned in court, Jega says the electoral commission will return to holding elections in April.

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