- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

LAGOS, Nigeria — A top opposition candidate said yesterday that Nigeria’s presidential election was the worst ever conducted in the country and that the results should be annulled, while an American election observer group said the vote did not meet international standards.

While the government acknowledged there were widespread problems with Saturday’s vote, it defended the election as free and fair. “The election has been largely successful: We’ve broken the jinx,” said Electoral Commission Chairman Maurice Iwu.

AP reporters, however, witnessed ballot-paper shortages in opposition strongholds and open rigging favoring the ruling party of outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo. Local broadcast outlets reported intimidation by thugs with knives and guns.

Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who fell out with Mr. Obasanjo last year and ran as an opposition candidate, said no free and fair election could be arranged by the electoral commission, which he accuses of partisanship toward the ruling party and Mr. Obasanjo.

“I have already rejected the election. They have no alternative than to cancel the election altogether,” he said. “What we have seen clearly proves our fears that it is the worst election that we have ever seen.”

The Washington-based International Republican Institute said the entire electoral process did not meet international standards. Its 59 observers identified numerous voting-day irregularities, including ballot box stuffing and phony results.

“Neither the spirit of Nigerians who went to the polls to cast their ballots nor the dedication of the thousands of poll workers struggling to execute their responsibilities in polling stations throughout the country was matched by their leaders,” the group said.

Germany, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said it was worried about the reports of irregularities and use of violence in some regions.

“These incidents have given rise to concerns that not all Nigerians entitled to vote really were able to do so freely and without fear,” a statement said.

The Transition Monitoring Group, an independent election-monitoring group claiming 50,000 Nigerian observers, also called for the election to be annulled, saying voting hadn’t been held in many of the country’s 36 states and had started very late in many others.

The other main opposition party of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari didn’t immediately say it rejected the vote, but described it in disparaging terms. “Some voting has taken place, but there was no election,” said Abba Kyari, a spokesman for the party.

The elections were seen as a major test for Nigeria, a country of 140 million people that has never seen power handed from one elected leader to another in its 47-year history. Previous attempts in Africa’s top oil producer have been overturned by annulments or military coups.

The presidential winner must gain the most votes nationwide and at least a quarter of ballots cast in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. If not, a runoff election would be held within one month. Electoral officials said they hoped to release results by late today.

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