* Early results underscore ethnic, religious divide
* Contest between President Jonathan, former army ruler
* Close contest could lead to second round vote
By Matthew Tostevin
ABUJA, April 17 Results emerging slowly from
Nigeria's presidential election on Sunday showed a close
contest, stoking tension in northern opposition strongholds
where anxious youths feared a plot to rig the count.
Votes were almost entirely split between pre-poll favourite
President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-producing
Niger Delta, and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, from
the dustblown Muslim north.
Tens of millions voted on Saturday in what was tentatively
described by observers as the most credible presidential
election for decades in Africa's most populous nation.
The drip of results from 120,000 polling stations
underscored Nigeria's divisions.
Jonathan appeared to have done very well in much of the
south, even in places such as the sprawling commercial hub of
Lagos where his ruling People's Democratic Party had struggled
in parliamentary elections a week earlier.
But Buhari had a massive lead in figures from polling
stations across heavily populated northern states, where turnout
also appeared to have been very high.
"We are walking a tightrope," said Yusuf Tuggar, from
Buhari's Congress for Progressive Change and a candidate for
governor in northern Bauchi State in an April 26 ballot. "People
are getting excited."
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To avoid a run-off, a candidate has to get a simple majority
and at least a quarter of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36
states. With more than 73 million registered voters, a final
tally could take days to emerge.
Fearing the ruling party would try to fiddle the results --
the norm in ballots since army rule ended in 1999 -- Buhari
supporters massed on the streets in northern cities.
Police were investigating a possible bomb blast in a brothel
near a polling station in the city of Kaduna. The house of a
local ruling party official was burned down in the town of
Shots were fired in Bauchi and a car suspected to be
carrying fraudulent ballots was set ablaze in what turned out to
be a case of mistaken identity. Youths stalked the streets armed
with bows and arrows.
Jonathan is the first head of state from the main oil
producing region of Africa's biggest crude exporter. Should he
become the first sitting president to lose an election, there
could be trouble in his already volatile home region.
Turnout for the presidential election was high in the Niger
Delta, where people often did not bother to vote in the past
because they knew results would be rigged and feared
intimidation by heavily armed thugs.
"It is a path that would have been hard to imagine four
years ago or even two years ago," said Chris Newsom, an adviser
to civil society group Stakeholder Democracy Network in the
Buhari's support was bolstered by a feeling among many in
the north that Jonathan is usurping their right to another four
years in power. Jonathan inherited office after his predecessor,
northerner Umaru Yar'Adua, died last year in his first term,
interrupting a rotation between north and south.
Although a second round of voting could deepen uncertainty
and worsen Nigeria's polarisation, it could also be a mark of
deepening democracy in a country that sets an example for the
rest of Africa.
"If it went to a second round that would be a massive
achievement in a system that heavily favours the incumbent,"
said Antony Goldman of PM Consulting. "In the previous elections
it was inconceivable."
(Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall)
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