Senior Nigeria ruling party leaders face defeat, counting continue
LAGOS NIGERIA counted votes on Sunday after millions turned out for parliamentary polls despite violence and delays, with early indications showing a loosening of the ruling party’s grip on the legislature.
Deadly bomb blasts cast a shadow over a bid by Africa’s most populous nation to hold a credible vote after a series of violent and deeply flawed elections, but officials and activists said the polls were a marked improvement.
The twice-postponed parliamentary polls on Saturday were the first of three crucial elections this month, with presidential elections April 16 and governorship and state assembly ballots on April 26.
Results were being announced in each voting district on Sunday, though some areas of the country’s north voted until 2:00 am because of high turnout, possibly delaying announcements there, residents said.
“This is a basis which, in some elements, could be also improved,” said the head of a European Union observer mission, former Slovenian prime minister Alojz Peterle.
“But if this spirit is maintained and the violence is absent, then we could wait for a positive report in the end.” He called the violence over the weekend, while serious, “relatively isolated — it was not a general dimension of this election.” A major effort has been undertaken to organise credible polls, with the appointment of a respected academic to head the electoral commission, who ordered a series of reforms.
The previous voter list littered with false entries, including Mike Tyson and Nelson Mandela, was thrown out and replaced with a new one, compiled by taking electronic prints from each finger of every voter.
More than 73 million people registered to vote.
Safeguards meant to stop election day rigging and ballot-box snatching — major problems in Nigeria — were also in place.
Local media reports said early results showed key losses for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
The speaker of the house of representatives, Dimeji Bankole, as well as the daughter of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, a senator, looked set to lose their seats, several newspapers reported.
Early indications showed the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria with a strong showing in the country’s southwest, where the economic capital Lagos is located.
The Congress for Progressive Change opposition, whose presidential candidate Muhammahu Buhari, an ex-military ruler, is seen as the main challenger to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, appeared to make gains in the north.
There was clear enthusiasm across the country to cast ballots despite a bomb attack on an electoral office on Friday night that killed 13 people and wounded dozens of others.
Two other explosions occurred in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Saturday — one at a polling place and another at a vote collating centre.
Authorities had not officially confirmed any deaths, but sources said a number of people had been killed.
There was also sporadic violence in other areas, including in the oil-producing Niger Delta, notorious for election rigging and intimidation during past polls.