Split opposition boosts Nigerian leader's poll hopes

Thu Apr 14, 2011 5:30pm GMT

By Nick Tattersall

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan goes into an election on Saturday bolstered by division among the main opposition parties which has increased his chances of sealing victory in the first round.

Africa's most populous nation votes for the second time this month on Saturday, part of an election cycle which, so far, observers have deemed to have been among the most credible for several decades.

The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) saw its parliamentary majority eroded in last week's legislative polls but the opposition has failed to capitalise on the momentum, instead holding messy eleventh-hour talks to form an alliance which ultimately ended in failure.

Samir Gadio, emerging markets strategist at Standard Bank, said the election now looked like a "done deal".

"Even if (the opposition) had agreed to field a single candidate I think it would have been too little too late," he said.

The candidate for the PDP, which calls itself black Africa's largest political party and has a huge nationwide machinery, has won every election since the end of military rule 12 years ago and Jonathan was already considered the favourite.

His main opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, has strong grass roots support in parts of the north. The third major candidate, former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu, is from a party whose stronghold is the southwest.

The opposition are hoping their regional strengths combined will force a run-off. Jonathan would only win outright if he secures not only an overall majority, but also at least a quarter of the vote in two thirds of Nigeria's 36 states.   Continued...

<p>A woman casts her vote in an open field in Isuofia village about 30 km (19 miles) to Awka, the capital of Nigerian eastern state of Anambra, February 6, 2010. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye</p>
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