By Susan Njanji (AFP) – Feb 7, 2010
AWKA, Nigeria — The sitting governor in Nigeria's Anambra state won re-election on Sunday in a poll seen as a major test for Africa's largest democracy a year ahead of presidential elections.
Despite flaws arising from chaotic voter registration and long delays in opening the polls, observers declared Saturday's election to be "essentially" fair and an improvement on previous polls in the politically volatile southeastern state.
The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Peter Obi of the opposition All Progressives Grand Alliance the victor despite the glitches and fear the vote would be rigged in favour of President Umaru Yar'Adua's party.
Chief returning officer Josiah Uwazuruonye said Obi had met all legal requirements and scored the highest number of votes to be declared the winner.
Observers reported incidents of vote buying, and police confirmed that thugs had tried to snatch a ballot box from one polling station.
Poll observers said that the voters' register was a mess and that many people failed to cast their ballot.
"There were various anomalies, but the outcome is a reflection of the votes cast. They were essentially credible elections," said Akuro George of the respected Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) team of observers.
"The process was an improvement on what we were used to in the past," he added.
"By Anambra standards, this election was better than expected", said a western diplomat who observed the vote in the region, which has a history of flawed elections.
Some of those whose names were missing on the voters register were eventually allowed to vote on the strength of their voting cards.
The 2007 poll that brought Yar'Adua to power was tainted by widespread rigging and voter intimidation, and he had vowed to improve the credibility of elections in the continent's most populous nation.
Obi overwhelmingly won with 97,843 votes, ahead of closest rival Chris Ngige, from the Action Congress opposition party, who took 60,240 ballots. The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and former central bank governor Chukwuma Soludo came third garnering 59,755 votes.
There were widespread fears that the INEC would manipulate the vote in favour of PDP.
"We give kudos to the INEC for not living up to the justified cynical perception," said Ikeazor Akaraiwe who headed an independent team of monitors appointed by the INEC.
"In the midst of all we can say the result reflects the will of the people of Anambra," he added.
Observers and the winner said they expected a litany of court cases challenging the conduct of the election. "The court cases are going to be quite numerous," said one western observer.
"Although the old-age inadequacies of the INEC in terms of poor preparation (existed) they were minimal," Obi told reporters.
"This election was free and fair, the only problem experienced was the voters register," he said.
Governors of Nigeria's 36 states are powerful, being key in the selection of presidential candidates at party conventions.
The PDP controls all but eight of the 36 states and Anambra is one of the few in the hands of the opposition.
Presidential elections next year should ensure only a second successive democratic handover between civilian rulers in oil-rich Nigeria since a long period of military rule ended a decade ago.
A bill proposing changes to the electoral laws is still before parliament but analysts say Nigeria's problem is less about the law than its application.
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