Unease among Muslims about the Christian leader

Voters in Africa's most populous nation are deciding on Saturday whether to keep their accidental President in power, though unease among Nigeria's Muslims about the Christian leader could force a runoff in this oil-rich country where elections have long been marred by fraud and violence. Bombings struck the northeast during last week's legislative elections, and another blast went off on Saturday morning in a residential neighbourhood of Maiduguri though no injuries were reported. Assailants also shot the rear windshield of an election official's vehicle there on Friday night, said authorities.

Voters must choose whether President Goodluck Jonathan should now be elected after taking over last year when his predecessor died in office following a lengthy illness. Mr. Jonathan is the candidate for Nigeria's long-dominant ruling party and is the clear front-runner, but several other candidates threaten to siphon off enough votes that it could go to a second round for the first time since Nigeria became a democracy 12 years ago.

Mr. Jonathan told reporters on Saturday that Nigeria was experiencing a “new dawn” with the election, and that while he expected to win he would not interfere with the electoral process. Still, he said he hoped the weekend vote would be conclusive.

The opposition candidates are capitalising on discontent with the ruling People's Democratic Party. While voters were careful not to mention it by name, they blamed current leaders for lack of clean drinking water, schools, electricity and jobs in this country where most live on less than $2 a day.

To win, Mr. Jonathan must receive a minimum level of support from across this enormous West African country of 150 million — a complicated formula somewhat similar to the American electoral college system. He cannot win the presidency outright unless he carries at least a quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of states and the capital.

Nigeria, though, largely splits between a Muslim north that nears the Sahara Desert, and a Christian south of forests and swampland. While Mr. Jonathan is embraced in the predominantly Christian south, many in the Muslim north believe one of their own should have had another turn after the Muslim President died in office in May 2010.

Among those looking to take away key votes from Mr. Jonathan in northern Muslim constituencies is a hometown candidate — former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. He ruled Nigeria shortly after a 1983 New Year's Eve coup, executing drug dealers and going after corrupt officials while also stifling freedom of speech and jailing journalists. Former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu is also running.

Many hope Saturday's vote will help Nigeria atone for years of marred polls since it became a democracy only 12 years ago. International observers roundly rejected Nigeria's 2007 poll as being rigged and marred by thuggery, though it represented the nation's first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power.

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