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Divisions Threaten Continued Dominance of Nigeria's Ruling Party


Divisions within Nigeria's ruling party threaten its continued dominance as the country prepares for elections next year.

The People's Democratic Party is the undisputed king of Nigerian politics, having won the last three presidential elections, holding majorities in both houses of parliament, and controlling more than three quarters of Nigeria's state governorships.

But the PDP is split by a series of internal battles over a party chairman facing federal corruption charges and the suspension of party leaders who want to make the selection of candidates more transparent.

With politicians positioning themselves for elections next year, acting President Goodluck Jonathan says the ruling party's continued dominance of Nigerian politics is under threat.

"If we all don't work together, then of course we can not win elections mostly. One major challenge we have as the ruling party is that demands will be there. Opposition will want to crack that," he said.

But it is not external opponents who pose the biggest threat to PDP control because no other party has the breadth of membership or depth of organization.

"If you think of the threat to that dominance in terms of enabling the other parties to gain further ground, I wouldn't think so. If you think of the threat to the PDP in terms of its breaking up, becoming something different from what we know now, yes, that is possible," said Nnamdi Obasi, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Would-be reformers believe the selection of President Umaru Yar'adua was unduly orchestrated by former president Olusegun Obasanjo. With President Yar'adua too ill to finish his first term, they want the selection of the next candidate to be more transparent.

Obasi says the party's reform movement is a combination of principle and private interest.

"There are people who are not really interested in running for any office but think that the debacle of the Yar'adua administration was brought about because the selection of Yar'adua was not a free and fair process," he said. "If you [had] free and fair primaries, you would have gotten a more competent, and perhaps more healthy person into that position. And the same thing applies to governorships in a number of places. So first of all, there is an interest in democratizing the process of the primaries."

Obasi says there are others who want to change the rules to boost their own political fortunes.

"There are members of the reform movement who have their own personal interests and see the powers of the governors as standing directly in the way of their own ambitions. And so they are fighting for reforms not from the point of view of principle, not from the point of view of achieving greater internal democracy in their party, but strictly in order to enable their own realization of their own ambitions," said Obasi.

Acting President Jonathan says the issue is not the difference of opinions within the PDP, but how some members have allowed those differences to divide the party.

"In every human society there may be tendency for people to disagree on certain issues," he said. "Even husbands and wives will always disagree. But the most important [thing is] this is how we resolve our crises, and PDP has the power to do so."

Mr. Jonathan says the dispute may ultimately help the party.

"Maybe some of this helps PDP to work together. And I always believe in PDP. There are people who believe PDP will split into fragments, but no matter we disagree, at the end of the day PDP will come on stronger," he said.

Mr. Jonathan himself is one of the areas of dispute within the party as he is from southern Nigeria and has not ruled out running in next year's election.

Party Chairman Vincent Ogbulafor says the next candidate should be from northern Nigeria to complete the eight years promised northern politicians under an informal power-sharing agreement that rotates the presidency between the mainly-Muslim north and largely-Christian south every two terms.

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