The legislative assembly elections in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with 160 million people, stand out for improved procedures after a bad start. The polls had been scheduled for April 2 but ballot papers did not arrive in time; officials were absent from several polling stations; and electoral registers were incomplete. However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rose to the challenge, and the postponed poll took place a week later. Given the troubled record of Nigerian elections since the 1999 restoration of democracy, problems were expected. A bomb killed 10 people near the national capital Abuja; in the north-east, a polling booth and a counting centre were bombed; gunmen murdered a politician belonging to the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and four others died in an attack on officials; and in the west, seven died in election-related violence. As for the outcome, all opposition parties in Enugu state have complained of vote-rigging in favour of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and there have been complaints in several other states as well.

With 70 per cent of the results declared so far, President Goodluck Jonathan's PDP have suffered significant losses. The main gainers are the newly-formed Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). But final results will not be known until after April 26, when postponed polling is to take place in about one sixth of the constituencies. Although public perceptions of the overall election are favourable, any procedural improprieties could have wide effects. An exaggerated PDP presence, besides undermining public confidence, would render the national assembly much less capable of holding the executive to account over matters such as the influence of the Shell oil corporation — exposed by WikiLeaks — on the governance of the country. That, in turn, could affect the legitimacy of the Nigerian state itself. Any new government will face the challenges of reducing endemic corruption and distributing less inequitably the benefits of growth. The electorate has shown strong public spirit, by participating in vote counts and pushing party thugs away from polling stations. Women turned out in large numbers in the culturally traditional Muslim-majority north. Nigerian voters have shown their commitment to democracy; their newly-elected representatives will have to live up to this trust.

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