Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nigeria: Some elections delayed again

ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigeria again postponed some elections for the oil-rich country's National Assembly on Thursday, though the man running the polls promised the majority of the races would be held as planned Saturday.

Independent National Electoral Commission chairman Attahiru Jega said about 15 percent of the races scheduled to be held would be delayed until April 26 as officials don't have ballots for the races. The remaining races will be held on Saturday as scheduled.

"We will do our best to revive hope and confidence in the process," Jega told a news conference broadcast live on television networks and radio stations across Africa's most populous nation.

He later added: "We have to keep hope alive."

Jega's announcement comes after he twice delayed the poll for the National Assembly, positions worth more than $1 million in salaries and perks — not counting the power to subvert the billions of dollars in oil revenues the country earns each year. Officials attempted to hold the elections April 2, but ballots papers and tally sheets remained missing from polling stations across the country.

Jega halted the election just as voters began casting ballots in some regions. Addressing journalists on Thursday, Jega said there was not enough time to reprint new ballots for those areas, as well as new ballots for regions where political party logos were missing or misprinted. He also blamed domestic and international companies with contracts for the printing for delaying the distribution of the election materials.

Those regions not voting Saturday will cast ballots on those races April 26, the same day as the country's planned gubernatorial election, Jega said.

Jega initially delayed the National Assembly poll until Monday, but later pushed it back to Saturday. His decision also delayed the country's coming presidential and gubernatorial races by a week.

Many hope the April elections in the nation of 150 million people will help it atone for years of marred polls since it became a democracy in 1999. Instead, it has raised fears among citizens that it could be a repeat of previous polls that saw thugs steal ballot boxes and outbreaks of violence.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a candidate himself for the upcoming presidential election, gave a televised address Thursday morning in an effort to calm nerves in the country. Dressed in a traditional caftan and bowler hat, Jonathan promised to ensure the security and transparency of the election.

"The government remains committed to ensuring the safety of the lives and property of all Nigerians across the country," Jonathan said. "Nigeria is bigger than any one of us. No one's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian."

Jega, a widely respected academic who became the country's election chief last year, largely won support for delaying the vote. However, he faces increasing pressure and local newspaper reports claim he threatened to resign his position after the failed April 2 vote. When asked about it Thursday, he declined to comment, drawing murmurs from a crowd of journalists at the meeting in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.

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