goodluck jonathan2.jpgNigeria’s postponement of general elections cast further doubt Monday on the ability of Africa’s most populous nation to hold credible polls, but political parties lined up behind the delay.

The country’s electoral chief announced the postponements on Sunday after meeting with political leaders, and Nigeria’s two main opposition parties expressed relief at the outcome, saying it gave them enough time to prepare.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign also welcomed the delay and lashed out at suggestions it was involved in sabotage that led to the postponements.

“The (Peoples Democratic Party) is aware of the spurious allegations of attempts at rigging made against it by opponents,” a statement said.

“However, we see such distractions as the rantings of those who see failure and envisage defeat at the polls …”

This month’s landmark polls are being viewed as a critical test of whether Africa’s largest oil producer can organise a credible ballot after a history of election fraud and violence.

The new dates will now be April 9 for parliamentary polls, April 16 for presidential elections and April 26 for governorship and state assembly polls.

Parliamentary polls were due to be held on Monday, while the presidential vote was previously set for April 9 and state ballots on April 16.

Legislative elections had already been postponed once, with the delay announced hours after the vote was to begin on Saturday as materials and personnel failed to arrive at a large number of polling stations.

Electoral commission chief Attahiru Jega went on live television at around midday Saturday to announce he was pulling the plug, appearing solemn and deeply apologetic as he called the situation an “emergency.”

But the two-day delay he announced drew immediate criticism from those who said it did not leave enough time to sort out logistical problems and would give an unfair advantage to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

There were also the inevitable suggestions of sabotage in a country long held back by corruption. Some analysts predict parliamentary polls could loosen the PDP’s firm grip on the legislature.

The criticism led to Jega’s meeting on Sunday with political parties and his announcement afterward that all polls would be shifted.

Former Botswana president Festus Mogae, the head of observers from the Commonwealth, called the postponements “regrettable.”

“We fully recognise that it is the prerogative of Nigeria’s electoral authorities to make changes to the electoral timetable,” the statement said.

“We believe nonetheless that such repeated and last-minute changes are regrettable and do not reflect positively on the state of preparedness of (the electoral commission).”

Opposition parties, however, said the shift was the best option available in order to allow for fair elections.

“We are now going to be in a position to get the logistics that we need,” said Yinka Odumakin, spokesman for the Congress for Progressive Change, whose presidential candidate, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, is seen as the strongest challenger to Jonathan.

“We can only hope that (the electoral commission) will have overcome its problems and prevent all possible acts of sabotage.”