LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) – The party of Nigeria’s president did well in parliamentary elections, according to early results yesterday, though true voter sentiment was tough to gauge because balloting was marred by fraud and violence that killed more than two dozen people.
President Olusegun Obasanjo’s backers said the results were a good sign heading into Saturday’s elections, in which he will seek a third term. Early results yesterday showed his Peoples Democratic Party won 135 of the 360 seats in parliament. Five opposition parties shared 99 seats and the other contests were not yet decided.
In the 109-seat Senate, the ruling party took 39 seats, compared with 27 for the opposition.
There were 3,000 candidates for all 469 legislative seats.
The vote was tainted by killings and allegations of voter intimidation and fraud. It was the first civilian-run ballot in 20 years in Africa’s most populous nation.
During the vote, more than two dozen people were killed in election-related violence, witnesses and voting observers said. In some places, the vote was peaceful, but there were not enough ballots.
Several officials were arrested on charges of trying to stuff ballot boxes, and observers accused government “thugs” of stealing voting supplies at gunpoint.
One group of international election monitors, the Commonwealth Observer Group, listed problems – missing ballot materials, long lines at polling stations and a lack of privacy for voters – but said the elections went better than some expected.
“There were violent incidents in certain places, but the most pessimistic predictions were confounded,” chairman Salim Ahmed Salim said in a statement.
The U.S. Democratic Party’s National Democratic Institute also said voting went better than expected but urged “concerted, extraordinary steps” to fix flaws.
The elections were a test of civil tensions in this nation of 126 million people a week ahead of the presidential election, which pits Obasanjo against 19 opposition candidates.
Both of Nigeria’s previous attempts to hand over power democratically from one civilian administration to another were thwarted by military coups.
Obasanjo took office in 1999, when the former military regime administered the vote. Twenty-five years ago, Obasanjo, too, was a military ruler, but he has transformed himself into a civilian statesman.