Nigerian Ruling Party Candidate Declared Winner

Monday, April 23rd 2007, 10:05 am
By: News On 6

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) _ The ruling party candidate was declared the winner Monday of Nigeria's presidential elections, following a vote that international observers said was marred by widespread problems including ballot box stuffing and phony results.

A leading opposition candidate, alleging fraud, rejected the vote.

As was widely expected, Umaru Yar'Adua, the 56-year old Muslim governor of northern Katsina state, won in a landslide.

The U.S.-based International Republican Institute and the European Union identified numerous voting-day irregularities and said the election failed to meet international standards.

``These elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and the process cannot be considered to have been credible,'' said Max Van den Berg, head of the EU observers mission.

Turnout appeared low for Saturday's vote to replace President Olusegun Obasanjo, who leaves office May 29 in Nigeria's first transfer of power between elected, civilian leaders.

In a nationwide address ahead of Monday's announcement, Obasanjo accused the opposition of ``fanning the embers of hate'' and engaging in ``outright subversive activities.''

Electoral commission Chairman Maurice Iwu said Yar'Adua won about 24.6 million votes, more than three times the number garnered by the runner up, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, in Saturday's vote. Some 61 million Nigerians registered to vote. Iwu gave no turnout figures.

Obasanjo admitted that the vote was flawed, but said Nigerians were nonetheless devoted to democracy. He said losers should redress grievances through the courts.

When Yar'Adua was asked on state television if he had expected to win the vote derided by the opposition as heavily rigged, his entourage broke into raucous laughter.

But Yar'Adua allowed only a tight smile and said: ``I did because my party is strong. We enjoy the goodwill of Nigerians.''

Representatives of both the main opposition parties said they were deciding on a response after the widely expected outcome, with one party repeating earlier statements that they would challenge the results in court.

Nigeria's other elections since independence from Britain in 1960 have been overturned by coups d'etat or annulments. Dozens of Nigerians have died in civil strife related to the elections, and fraud was clearly visible on voting days.

A Nigerian observer mission called Sunday for the vote to be reheld.

In announcing the outcome, Iwu said ``the conduct of the 2007 elections has not gone without difficulties.''

But he said distributing 65 million ballots in a country of 140 million people with poor road systems had been a massive logistical exercise. He said that the vote was held at all ``show(s) the tremendous love God has for this country.''

Iwu said Buhari, an 80's-era military ruler, had placed second with about 6.6 million votes. Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a former Obasanjo running mate who fell out with his boss, took 2.6 million ballots. He only rejoined the ballot last week after the Supreme Court ruled the electoral commission unlawfully disqualified him. The presidential ballots were reprinted last week in South Africa and the final papers only arrived in Nigeria the day before Saturday's vote.

If opposition party supporters heed their candidates' calls to reject the final outcome, it could undermine the ruling party's win, and potentially pit large segments of the population against each other.

Obasanjo, a former military ruler, won a 1999 election that ended 15 years of near-constant military rule. His 2003 re-election was marked by allegations of massive vote rigging. He was prevented from running again by constitutional term limits.