Opposition threatens to boycott Nigerian vote

The Baltimore Sun

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Opposition candidates in Nigeria's presidential election, which is scheduled for Saturday, have threatened a boycott unless the polling is delayed to ensure what they have called "a level playing field for all."

Their decision, announced Tuesday night, threw a chaotic election season into deeper confusion and raised the possibility that the long-planned vote might not take place Saturday.

Nigeria's government rejected the demand, saying yesterday that the vote would proceed.

The opposition's threat to boycott and the government's insistence that the election will go forward have set up a showdown as the country tries to have its first transfer of power between elected civilians. Nigeria's current president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is stepping down after two four-year terms. His election in 1999 ended three decades of near-continuous military rule.

"This is really a dangerous turning point for the country," said Nnamdi K. Obasi, the senior analyst in Nigeria for the International Crisis Group. "It may well mark the beginning of a period of real instability. It could produce a government with no legitimacy in a very unstable environment."

Denouncing the state elections of last Saturday as a "sham," the coalition of opposition parties said in a statement: "It is clear that no credible elections can be conducted under the current dispensation and unless a fundamental change in structure occurs there must be no further elections."

The elections last week, to choose governors and state assemblies in Nigeria's 36 states, were marred by violence and fraud. Election officials have canceled the results in two states, and a coalition of local observers urged that voting be redone in eight additional states.

International observers have also raised serious concerns about the voting in a number of states, further undermining the legitimacy of those polls, which the governing People's Democratic Party largely swept.

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