ABUJA (Reuters) - Ruling party candidate Umaru Yar’Adua looked set to win Nigeria’s presidential poll on Monday, early results showed, but monitors condemned the vote as a blow to the country becoming a beacon of democracy for Africa.
International and local observers said the ballot for the first handover of power from one civilian leader to another in the vast oil-producer was deeply compromised by ballot-stuffing, violence and a shortage of millions of voting papers.
“The system failed the Nigerian people,” Pierre-Richard Prosper, from the International Republican Institute (IRI), said of the poll in a country still scarred by decades of military rule and corruption since independence from Britain in 1960.
The IRI said Saturday’s poll in Africa’s most populous nation of 140 million people fell below acceptable standards and local observers from the Transition Monitoring Group said it must be annulled and run again.
World leaders have expressed hopes in the past that Nigeria, West Africa’s economic powerhouse, would emerge as a major force for the spread of democracy across the continent.
Rivers, the first state to publish its results, showed a landslide for Yar’Adua of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), President Olusegun Obasanjo’s chosen successor as he stands down after serving two terms.
A definitive result is expected on Monday, when more international observers -- including a European Union team -- will deliver their verdicts.
Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, the leading opposition candidate, said he would not accept the result and called on parliament to impeach Obasanjo.
The opposition said it might bring its supporters out on the streets if the PDP claimed victory.
About 65 people have been killed in violence related to both the presidential election and regional polls a week earlier in the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter.
The government said unnamed coup plotters were trying to discredit the poll after failing to blow up electoral headquarters on Saturday with a petrol tanker.
Police arrested protesters at the electoral headquarters in the capital Abuja and banned all rallies.
“This is the worst election ever in Nigeria... They have no alternative than to cancel the election altogether,” said outgoing Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, arch-enemy of Obasanjo.
The president tried every possible maneuver to exclude Abubakar, who stood for the opposition.
Senate President Ken Nnamani, Nigeria’s third most senior state official, said widespread electoral abuses would leave a legacy of hatred and a crisis of legitimacy for the winner.
Election commission head Maurice Iwu acknowledged some materials arrived late at polling stations but said the “big picture” was a free and fair election.
Analysts had predicted Yar’Adua would win due unrivalled funding and the powers of incumbency but Buhari had been expected to put up a credible challenge because of widespread disaffection with poverty and crime in the country.
Additional reporting by Austin Ekeinde in Port Harcourt, Camillus Eboh in Abuja, Tume Ahemba in Lagos
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