News / Africa

Nigeria's Ruling Party Divided Over Political Reforms

Nigeria's new president is expected to nominate a new vice president this week. His choice will come from a ruling party that is divided over political reform ahead of next year's elections.

As a president from southern Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan is expected to name a northern vice president to preserve regional balance. But the ruling People's Democratic Party is divided over changing the way it nominates candidates.

So President Jonathan's choice for a deputy will also be seen, in part, as a reflection of whether he backs reformers, who want to make the nomination process more transparent, or whether he is supporting party leaders who want to preserve the political power of state governors.

Those leaders have suspended members of the PDP's so-called reform forum for ridiculing the party. Chairman Vincent Ogbulafor says reformers are disregarding lawful party directives.

"There are people within the PDP who do not believe that there should be any reform. Smart Adeyemi, ruling party Senator from Kogi State said. "Even when they know that the system is corrupt-ridden. Even when they know that there are so many things that are faulty. There are people in the PDP who will not want reform because to create a platform for a free and fair election is to deny them their selfish gains in the flawed system. And they are powerful people."

Former Minister of State for Justice Musa Elayo Abdullahi is a member of the PDP's reform forum. He says party leaders have too much influence over the selection of candidates.

"The delegates that are being made to elect the governors and the president are heavily tilted  towards the people who are occupying the office of governors currently," Abdullahi said. "Therefore, if you are standing for election as a member of the house of assembly of a state or the house of representatives or the senate, the governor decides whether you can win that primary or not."

President Jonathan says party divisions could hurt PDP chances in next year's vote. "If we all don't work together, then of course we can not win elections mostly," Mr. Jonathan said.

Meeting with Mr. Jonathan after he was sworn in as president, party chairman Ogbulafor said the PDP is counting on his leadership to resolve party problems following last week's death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

"We ask you to take care of all of us here. Take care of the party and the problems. Take care of Nigerians. And what the former president started, make sure that things move smoothly so that when we go out to campaign for the next election we will have something on hand to present to the general public," Ogbulafor said.

The PDP is the undisputed king of Nigerian politics with three-quarters of state governorships and majorities in both houses of parliament. There is simply no other party that is in a position to take big advantage of its divisions.

So former Minister of State for Justice Abdullahi says it is up to the PDP to set an example for other politicians. "The other political parties that should be strong enough to give PDP some kind of a run for its money are non-existent. What is happening in PDP also happens in all the other political parties. And that is why we believe that if PDP can do it right, the other parties will pick up from there," he said.

President Jonathan believes the party will come together in time for next year's vote. "There are people who believe that PDP will split into fragments. But no matter we disagree, at the end of the day, PDP will come on stronger," Mr. Jonathan said.

Local government, legislative, and presidential elections are due by next April but could come sooner depending on electoral reforms currently being debated by parliament.

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