ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerians counted the votes on Saturday from delayed parliamentary elections, held with fewer hitches than past ballots despite a chaotic and violent run-up.
Voters were determined to show Africa’s most populous nation could hold a credible poll after more than a decade of elections discredited by ballot stuffing and thuggery.
“It was free and fair here and we’ve become much more optimistic about elections,” said technician Umar Mohammed Jari in the upmarket Maitama district of the capital, Abuja, as votes were tallied at a polling station for all to see.
“It has been 100 percent better than the last times.”
Killings in the final hours before the vote still cast a shadow over the elections. Nearly 20 people died in bombings and shootings, taking the toll from the poll run-up to around 100. At least two people were killed on voting day itself.
The bloodshed and logistical chaos, which forced the postponement of the parliamentary vote a week ago, have renewed doubts over whether democracy can work in Nigeria a dozen years after the end of army rule.
Some voters saw this election as a chance for a new start.
”It’s no longer business as usual,“ said Isa Jalo, an estate manager in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city. ”Politicians across the country are jittery at the way the elections have been conducted so far. They are not used to this at all.
First indications from a few polling stations were that President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was under pressure and could see its huge parliamentary majority trimmed.
The vote will be followed by the more important presidential election on April 16, which Jonathan is tipped to win. Governorship polls in 36 states will be held on April 26.
Preparations for the vote were much better than a week earlier, when papers failed to reach most of Nigeria.
“There was almost no disorder and no intimidation,” the head of a European Union observer mission, Alojz Peterle, told Reuters. EU observers said the last nationwide elections, held in 2007, were not credible.
The head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), humiliated by the election postponement, was pleased.
“There were some pockets (of violence) but if you look at things nationwide we can count where these things happened on our finger tips,” he told a news conference.
His estimate of turnout at 75 percent looked high compared to accounts from much of the country of 150 million.
Vote counts in Lagos, Abuja and a few other districts suggested the ruling PDP could emerge with a smaller majority in parliament. It holds more than three-quarters of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives and of the 109 in the Senate.
In one district of Abuja, the opposition CPC edged out the ruling party. In Lagos, results from a handful of polling stations showed the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria had a strong lead.
Good results trickled in for the ruling party in some parts of northeastern Borno state, although results sheets from some corners were being transported by horse and donkey meaning a final count will take some time. The local PDP party strongman also claimed victory in northwestern Kwara State.
Seats in the national assembly are fiercely contested by candidates who stand to win a package whose benefits alone amount to more than $1 million a year.
Not all went smoothly on voting day.
An opposition politician was shot dead in Borno. Two bombs exploded in the state. One took off a policewoman’s hands and wounded four other people. The other caused no injuries.
In the ever volatile Niger Delta, where Nigeria pumps most of its oil, voter materials were hijacked in the village of Ekeremor. In the town of Brass, one person was killed in clashes between supporters of rival politicians.
Security was tightened nationwide after a bombing killed at least 10 people on Friday at an election office in Suleja, on the edge of the capital Abuja. Overnight, another five people were killed in western Nigeria.
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Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall, Chijioke Ohuocha, Shyamantha Asokan in Lagos, Joseph Penny in Kano, Camillus Eboh in Abuja, Samuel Tife in Yenagoa, Austin Ekeinde in Port Harcourt, Ibrahim Mshelizza in Hawul; Editing by Matthew Tostevin