Nigeria holds its next round of general elections in 2011 in what many see as a crucial test of the country's fledgling democracy. Without key electoral reforms, many Nigerians fear vote rigging and intimidation could derail the process.

The run-up to the 2011 elections has reignited concerns about a free, fair and credible vote in Africa's most populous nation. Nigerian elections in 2007 were marred by widespread vote rigging and intimidation and foreign and domestic observers said they were "not credible."

Even President Umaru Yar'Adua admitted "lapses and shortcomings" in the vote which brought him to power and promised to fix the flawed electoral system. But critics believe Mr. Yar'Adua has moved too slowly on reforms and that key changes are not expected before the 2011 elections.

Opposition parties are against the president appointing the head of the electoral commission. A 22-member electoral reform panel appointed by President Yar'Adua had recommended that the head of the electoral body should be appointed by the National Judicial Commission "to truly make it an independent body." The government however, rejected the recommendation.

The much-criticized electoral commission chairman Maurice Iwu blames a desperate political class motivated largely by a desire to enjoy the profits of office for Nigeria's electoral problems. He told a parliamentary committee that a crackdown on electoral offenders could be an important step in the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria.

"We need to look at creative ways of stopping such rot," said Iwu.  "It is easy to say create a commission. Does it mean anywhere we have a failing we create a commission? We have to look at what are the problems? What do we want to achieve? We need to punish people who commit electoral offences."

Political commentators say peaceful, free and fair elections in 2011 are essential in stabilizing a country in danger of sliding into anarchy.

Nigerian opposition parties have vowed to resist any attempt to rig the vote, setting the stage for a hotly contested ballot.

More than 15,000 people have died in a series of violent clashes since the return to civil democracy in 1999.