In Nigeria, President Stronger Than Ever Despite Party Losses

BY Larisa Epatko  April 14, 2011 at 2:55 PM EST

Buoyed by the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s loss of seats in last weekend’s parliamentary elections, opposition parties this week tried — and failed — to mount a formal challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of Saturday’s presidential vote.

The collapse of their coalition attempts, and the relatively peaceful way in which the parliamentary vote unfolded last week, bode well for Jonathan’s chances to maintain his post, said Shyamantha Asokan, a GlobalPost reporter in Lagos, Nigeria.

The West African nation of Nigeria, with its 155 million population, is roughly split between Muslims and Christians, and is dogged by religious and ethnic divisions.

Violence during the campaign period left some 100 people dead and delayed the vote by a week. But the parliamentary elections themselves proceeded relatively smoothly, and their overall improvement from past years made Jonathan look good, Asokan said.

With results still being tallied Thursday, the ruling party appears to have lost seats in both houses of Parliament, but still maintains a majority.

Nigerians showed their dissatisfaction with the ruling party over problems of corruption and the slow pace of development and basic services, including electricity and water, but it was not enough to prompt a government overhaul, said Asokan. And in parliamentary elections, people tend to vote more on localized issues and their feelings on a particular candidate rather than policy matters, she added.

In the 48 hours following the parliamentary election, when ruling party losses were first reported, people speculated that Jonathan’s chances for election might take a hit, she said. But “24 hours is a long time in politics, as the cliché goes, and over the last day he’s started to look very strong again,” she said.

This will be Jonathan’s first actual election. As vice president, he took the place of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died last year due to a chronic illness.

Jonathan’s two main challengers are former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and former Nigerian anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu.

This week’s coalition talks between Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change and Ribadu’s Action Congress of Nigeria broke down Thursday. The CPC has backing in the north, and the ACN has support in the southwest, but Jonathan’s party is the only one with a following in all 36 states, said Asokan. “Unless they (the opposition) can combine, it’s unlikely that they can unseat this big national machine,” she said.

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