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After Abacha Monday, 7 December, 1998, 17:05 GMT
Abacha's uniting shadow
Nigerian voters go to the polls at the weekend
Local elections were the first step to civilian rule
By Africa Reporter Caroline Hawley

The People's Democratic Party won significant victories in Nigeria's local elections - the first stage in a planned return to civilian rule next May.

The PDP is the biggest and most broadly-based of the nine political parties to emerge over the past four months.

It has, as yet, no manifesto but it is the main platform for a cross-section of veteran politicians who opposed the rule of the General Sani Abacha, who died of a heart-attack in June.

One of the party's leading figures is himself a former military head of state, turned democracy activist - General Olusegun Obasanjo - the only one of Nigeria's military rulers to hand power to an elected civilian government, in 1979.

General Obansanjo went on to become one of the most prominent political prisoners of the former military government.

He was released by General Abdulsalami Abubakar in June, just days after he took power.

Two runner-ups

The two other parties to do well were the All People's Party - which groups politicians that backed General Abacha and which cynics have dubbed the Abacha People's Party - and the Alliance for Democracy.

The latter dominated the poll among the Yoruba people in the south-west of the country - who were at the forefront of protests against the former military government.

All three parties are expected to go through to the next stages of the process which culminate in the swearing-in of an elected civilian ruler by May.

Transition begins

International monitors say the local elections were a good start to the transition process. Despite a number of logistical problems, they passed off relatively smoothly and had a high turn-out.

They were the most competitive and open for years - a credible first step on Nigeria's path to democracy.

But that path is likely to be peopled by faces from the past, who may not have spotlessly democratic records.

As General Obasanjo put it last month, when he declared he would stand for the presidency: "You have to be realistic in Nigeria.

"If you want Utopia, you won't see it this side of eternity."

See also:

18 Feb 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
04 Dec 98 | Africa
27 Nov 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
07 Dec 98 | After Abacha
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