Nigeria's Glass: Half Full

Watching democracy grow in Africa can sorely test one's patience. So when one nation holds a reasonably fair election, it's natural to look on the bright side first.

Nigeria, a giant of a nation that should be Africa's trend-setter, just held votes for parliament and president. In scope, the elections were Africa's biggest, with more than 60 million voters. That the balloting occurred at all in most places, and was largely peaceful, says something about a public eagerness for democracy.

And given Nigeria's long history of military rule and rampant corruption, these elections were a relative success for civilian control of the country and for attempts to prevent voting fraud.

A couple more upbeat notes: The election is the first one run by civilians in 20 years; it will mark the first transition from a civilian administration to another civilian administration.

All that said, the presidential race on Saturday pitted two former military rulers against each other, which tainted the process. In the election run-up, hundreds of people were killed in political violence. And what irregularities there were in the voting may be enough for the loser, General Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, to foment trouble.

The winner, President Olusegun Obasanjo, appears to have won about two-thirds of the vote, despite his poor track record in reining in corruption or boosting an economy that should be naturally rich from oil. Mr. Obasanjo came to power with great hopes for reform. Now he needs to use this second mandate more wisely.

The most worrisome aspect of the race, however, is that the vote counts show a wider split between the Muslim north and Christian south. Obasanjo, a Christian, needs to work on that problem, too.

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