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Nigeria; elections over, now the hard work begins

By Jacinta Moran in Cape Town

April 19, 2011 - Goodluck Jonathan was declared the winner of Nigeria's presidential elections on April 18 in a landmark vote that led to protests across the country's largely Muslim north.

Jonathan, the incumbent and first president from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta region, won 57% of the vote in Africa's most populous nation, easily beating his northern rival, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Final results gave Jonathan 22.49 million votes, while Buhari secured 12.2 million votes for 31%.

Millions of voters turned out to vote as the continent's largest oil producer bid to put years of rigging and flawed ballots behind it and hold the first credible election for decades.

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Although international monitors described the vote as both free and fair, Buhari's supporters accused the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of fraud.

Jonathan, who took over as president in 2010 when Umaru Yar'Adua died, staked his reputation on the election, repeatedly pledging it would be free of intimidation and transparent.

"The election has been free and fair compared to previous elections," said Thompson Ayodele, director of the Initiative for Public Analysis (IPPA), a think-thank in Lagos.

"There was very few outbursts of violence in most of the states and things went peacefully. You can see from the results that Jonathan is now widely accepted as the new president of Nigeria," Ayodele told Platts.

Riots erupted April 18 in cities across the north as a spokesman for Jonathan said he would emerge as the victor.

In Kano, the largest city in the north, homes displaying posters of Jonathan were set on fire, and gangs of youths roamed the streets shouting "Only Buhari."

In his acceptance speech, Jonathan paid tribute to the other main candidates in the race, including Buhari, but he also called on their supporters to halt the violence in the northern states.

Analysts warned that Jonathan will have a major challenge in trying to reach out to northern constituencies and to engage those who did not vote for him with his government.

Under an unwritten rule in the PDP, its presidential candidate rotates between the north and the south every two terms in an attempt to avoid conflict between the regions.

Former president Umaru Yar'Adua, from the northern state of Katsina, died before his first term had ended.

Many northerners believe their turn at the presidency was taking prematurely by a southerner.

"From the results, we see that Buhari did better in the northern states so Jonathan must be sensitive to those in the North who did not vote for him," said Yvonne Mhango, Sub-Saharan Africa Economist for Renaissance Capital.

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