The parliamentary elections held in Nigeria on April 9 2011 were the first of a series of three elections scheduled for the month, with presidential and gubernatorial polls up next. By most accounts, the process so far has been free and fair, a marked improvement over the 2007 elections which were marred by widespread fraud, violence, and intimidation.
Apart from the relatively smooth election process, the other headline of the day was the sizeable gains which the opposition made in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. With about half of constituencies reporting, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had slipped to 49% of seats in the House and 62% in the Senate, compared to 77% and 85% respectively in the outgoing legislature. The Speaker of the House was among the PDP casualties, losing his seat to a challenger from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). This has led some to speculate that momentum is with the opposition going into the presidential elections, posing a credible challenge to incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan.
I don’t think that this is likely to happen. First of all, many of the constituencies which have reported so far are opposition (particularly ACN) strongholds. I therefore expect that PDP losses will be less severe than the preliminary statistics indicate.
Secondly, Nigerian politics are often more about personalities than parties, and Goodluck Jonathan is still quite popular in public opinion polls. A recent tally showed that Jonathan easily has enough support to win an outright majority of votes, and garner more than 25% of votes in at least 24 states, the two conditions necessary to avoid a runoff election. Trying to build on success at the parliamentary polls, the ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) have been trying to rally behind a single presidential candidate, with a view toward consolidating the opposition, but talks reportedly fell apart before a deal could be reached.
I expect that Goodluck Jonathan will win in the first round of voting, and also believe that the conduct of the elections will remain satisfactory, delivering Nigeria its first free and fair polls since the end of military rule.