News / Africa

Nigerians to Vote in Presidential Polls

A Nigerian man hawks snacks along a street lined with destroyed posters advertising Presidential candidate Jonathan Goodluck at Jos, Apr 15 2011
A Nigerian man hawks snacks along a street lined with destroyed posters advertising Presidential candidate Jonathan Goodluck at Jos, Apr 15 2011

Nigerians are preparing to cast their ballots on Saturday in the country's presidential election, a contest that incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan is highly favored to win.

Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Committee, INEC, says it is prepared for presidential balloting after a bumpy start earlier this month.

Saturday's poll is the second in a three-part general election being held in Africa's most populous nation, and is seen as a test of whether Nigeria can hold fair elections after a decade of polls marred by corruption and violence.

Parliamentary elections held last week were postponed twice after ballot distribution problems, but INEC says all 70 million voters should be able to cast their ballots Saturday.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the former vice president, is seeking his first full term after assuming the presidency last year upon the death of his predecessor.

Although Jonathan is favored to win in a crowded field of a dozen other candidates, his two main rivals are 68-year-old former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, and the 50-year-old former anti-corruption head, Nuhu Ribadu.

One voter named Mario Samuel made it very clear who he would vote for.

"General Buhari, because he's the man whom we shall trust over all the other aspirants," Samuel said.

Samuel says he does not trust Jonathan's party, the ruling People's Democratic Party, to tackle the problem of deep-seated corruption.

Another voter, an unemployed university graduate, said he was going to vote for Buhari but changed his mind after President Jonathan promised to help create jobs for Nigeria's large number of unemployed youths.

"I made up my mind that I'm going to vote for him [Jonathan], provided he is able to meet all his political objectives," said the voter.

The PDP has won every presidential poll since the end of military rule in 1999. The party suffered significant losses in last week's polls, losing seats in the southwest and north, but still managed to maintain its majority in the National Assembly.

A fellow at international think tank Chatham House, Sola Tayo, says it's unclear whether the PDP's losses will have a major effect on the presidential poll, but that Jonathan may lose votes for failing to distinguish himself from his opponents on key campaign issues.  

"Obviously the presidentials are based more on personalities. People will vote for the party, but they tend to vote a lot for the personality," said Tayo. "Goodluck Jonathan has seen a slump in popularity recently and Mohammadu Buhari has really, really come up because a lot of people are looking to him because he's a disciplinarian and he's anti-corruption. And they take him a bit more seriously than Goodluck Jonathan, some disillusioned voters."

An Abuja-based political scientist, Ibrahim Jibrin, said regardless if Jonathan wins, the country is likely to end up with a far more dynamic political system than it has seen in more than a decade.

"The political system will have more of an equilibrium. We've had this situation in which one party controls three-quarters of the states in the country and three-quarters of the seats in the National Assembly," said Jibrin. "That created a monolithic system in which one party was dominant and the opposition was extremely weak."

"The new future," added Jibrin, "will be one in which you are going to have three or four major parties sharing seats in the National A ssembly and sharing control of states."

Jibrin says even if the shrunken PDP majority makes it more difficult for Jonathan to govern, it is healthier overall for Nigeria's democracy.

"It is more difficult, but it is also more reflective of the nature of the country. I don't believe that the PDP had the type of support it claimed," Jibrin said. "It was clear to me that a lot of their seats were through electoral fraud. What you have now is a situation in which the representation at the political level will reflect more truly the political composition of the country."

In order to win, Jonathan will not only need a simple majority but at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the country's 36 states. This rule requires candidates to try and gain the support of as many regions as possible. Jonathan's stronghold is in the predominantly Christian south, while Buhari's is in the Muslim north.

Elections monitors will once again be on hand to observe the country's poll. Despite some isolated incidents of violence last week, observers said the parliamentary elections were mostly free and fair. Turnout is expected to be much higher for the presidential poll and state polls slated for next week.

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