Nigeria's new electoral act sets out a timetable for local, state, and federal elections. But leaves unanswered the biggest question surrounding this vote: will President Goodluck Jonathan run for re-election?
Nigeria's new electoral act staggers next year's vote with elections for the Senate and House of Representatives first, followed by the presidential election, and then voting for state governors.
It is part of a series of constitutional amendments signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan, who says the fundamental changes will improve the conduct of Nigerian elections.
"It is proof that this system can muster the capacity to correct itself while the nation moves on to a higher level of political development," Mr. Jonathan said.
The Independent National Electoral Commission must publish the date of the election at least 90 days in advance, which means officials must give notice by the end of next month if voting is to begin in early January as expected. The new rules also give the electoral commission more time to finalize voter lists. Those registries may be revised up to 60 days before the vote, instead of the 120 days during the last election.
President Jonathan says that will help ensure maximum participation in the vote.
"Unless the right of our people to decide who governs them is enforced and protected, politicians and government officials will not be persuaded to act at all times for the common good of all," he added.
Political parties must submit their list of candidates within 60 days of the vote. That means President Jonathan must declare his candidacy by the end of October for an election in January. But the president has not yet said whether he will run for his own mandate after coming to power this year after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
Presidential advisors warn not to read too much into that delay, saying the president has not said that he is not running. Either way, President Jonathan says the impartiality of the process must be ensured.
"Since coming into office, I have emphasized that this administration will do all that is needed to guarantee free, fair, and credible elections in 2011 and beyond," Mr. Jonathan said. "I have said time and again that I will not consider my personal interest or the benefit of my own political party in doing that which will secure credible elections for our people."
President Jonathan's administration says it will not interfere with the electoral commission's work.
The Independent National Electoral Commission originally told the Finance Ministry it needed about $475 million to conduct the vote. But when that total rose, Finance Minister Olusgeun Aganga says he put the higher request before lawmakers so that any decision about spending is not seen to be politically-motivated.
"Because if anything went wrong, government would be blamed for not supporting INEC," Aganga said. "We do not want that blame. We want to make sure that the president has set the direction. The president has made it absolutely clear that he wants a free and fair election. The minimum we can do as a government is to make sure we provide our support to them entirely."
Lawmakers ultimately decided to give the Independent National Electoral Commission about $570 million. If that decision had been made by the finance ministry, Aganga told reporters the media would have portrayed that as President Jonathan interfering in a process that may include him as a candidate.