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The World

April 16, 2011

Nigeria votes on whether to keep accidental leader

KAYAWA, Nigeria — Voters in Africa's most populous nation are deciding 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 country's northeast during last week's legislative elections, and another blast went off Saturday morning in a residential neighborhood of Maiduguri though no injuries were reported. Assailants also shot the rear windshield of an election official's vehicle there Friday night, authorities said.

"This election is very important," said Hamza Mohammed, 50, who serves as a local market chairman in the northern town of Katsina. "We want it to be conducted peacefully and we want peace to reign."

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. 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.

Jonathan told reporters 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.

"I pray I don't go into a by-election because of the cost implications," he said wearing his signature black bowler hat and traditional caftan as he was surrounded by throngs of cameramen in his home state of Bayelsa. "We pray that whoever will win, will win."

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

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