Jonathan Could Become PDP’s Candidate In 2011 If…El-Rufai

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Nigeria's Acting President Goodluck Jonathan could win support as a candidate for the presidency in 2011 if he delivers in coming months, said a former minister with a reputation as a key reformer.

Jonathan has not said he might stand for the presidency and the place on the ruling party ticket has been widely expected to go to someone from ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua's Muslim north rather than Jonathan's more heavily Christian south. But Nasir El-Rufai, a northerner from a group of younger Nigerian politicians pushing for more rapid liberal reforms, became one of the first to openly suggest the possibility of support for a Jonathan candidacy.

"Yar'Adua is from the North but did nothing for the region, just like many before him," he told Reuters in response to emailed questions.

"If Goodluck shows real leadership over the next few months, many of us will campaign for him to be our president. And I think Nigeria and the West African sub-region will be the better for it," said Rufai, who has been tipped in local media for a possible position in Jonathan's administration.

Jonathan, the vice president, assumed executive powers last week, over two months after Yar'Adua left for a Saudi hospital.

El-Rufai was one of the most senior members of former President Olusegun Obasanjo's team, serving as minister for the capital Abuja and heading the privatisation agency, and was tipped as a potential candidate for the 2007 election.

But he lost out to Yar'Adua, who was seen as less radical and won the presidential race.

After denouncing high level corruption, El-Rufai was himself accused of wrong-doing during his time in government. Dismissing the accusations as politically motivated, he left the country and has remained critical of Yar'Adua.

El-Rufai said that even with limited time, Jonathan could make a start on priorities such as the amnesty for rebels in the oil-producing Niger delta, fixing power supplies and roads as well as reforms to ensure clean elections.

"A lot can be done in these areas to give people hope that in time, the problems will be solved," said El-Rufai.

If Jonathan were to stand for election, at least for the ruling party, he would need the backing of northern politicians because of an unwritten commitment to rotate power between Nigeria's regions.

Since Yar'Adua appears likely to serve only one term, instead of the two allowed under the constitution, many northerners believe his successor should be from the north too.

Local media have suggested that if Yar'Adua's return became impossible, making Jonathan president, El-Rufai could be a candidate for the vice-presidency and therefore potentially for the presidency itself.

"I want to assure you I am not in any race to be that person," El-Rufai said.


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