Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nigerians Choose Civilian President, amid Apprehensions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nigerians Choose Civilian President, amid Apprehensions

Article excerpt

NIGERIA'S elections mark the country's greatest progress toward a transition to democracy in a decade of military rule. But relief over the smooth running of the polls is mixed with apprehension about the months ahead.

Moshood Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), appeared to have won on June 15, although the results have not been announced officially. With polling results known in 14 of Nigeria's 30 states, Mr. Abiola had won 11 and had received 4.4 million votes to 2.3 million secured by his opponent, Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

The next president must win a simple majority of votes cast and at least one-third of the votes in 20 states.

In the past three years, President Ibrahim Babangida's military regime has delayed the transition three times. If General Babangida hands over power as scheduled on Aug. 27, it will be the start of an uphill struggle for an inexperienced civilian government. The country's economy has been in a steep decline in recent years.

Abiola has solid support among Nigeria's Yoruba people, who predominate in five southwestern states, but he has also won Mr. Tofa's home state of Kano and taken a southeastern state the NRC was expected to win.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has not said when it will announce the final results after collating all the state returns in the federal capital Abuja, but a result was expected by the evening of June 15.

Both political parties are the creation of Babangida's military regime and are part of his guided, if halting, transition to democracy. The parties' manifestoes, written by the NEC, identify the SDP with welfare policies and the NRC with more right-wing policies, but there is little ideology or tradition to separate the parties. Both Abiola and Tofa are very wealthy businessmen with no direct government experience.

Patronage rather than policy is the means of persuasion in Nigerian politics, and tribal and religious loyalties are important influences. …

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