APRIL 26 2007 11:54h
Nigeria\'s president-elect, Umaru Yar\'Adua, has said he won disputed elections fair and square.
Foreign governments had been either silent or critical about the April 21 election that gave Yar'Adua a mandate to lead the African state of 140 million people for four years, until President Thabo Mbeki wrote to congratulate him.
"In his congratulatory letter ... Mbeki expressed South Africa's intention to forge closer working relations between the two countries," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Backing from South Africa, the continent's biggest diplomatic power, will come as a relief to Yar'Adua after widespread condemnation of the elections.
Mbeki said he hoped parties and candidates would use only constitutional means to redress grievances.
The U.S. State Department said earlier in the week the polls were "flawed" and has not yet sent a message to Yar'Adua. European Union observers said the elections were "not credible" and "fell far short of basic international standards".
Observers from the regional West African bloc ECOWAS were among those who criticised the polls, but most African governments were expected not to openly contest the result.
Analysts say there is an unwritten rule in Africa that governments do not speak out about the internal affairs of other states, although the African Union has tried to promote more criticism through a "peer review" mechanism. The handover of power from President Olusegun Obasanjo to Yar'Adua on May 29 will be the first from one civilian president to another in the history of Africa's most populous country.
But many Nigerians say Obasanjo picked Yar'Adua, a retiring governor of remote Katsina State, as his successor because he intends to continue to influence Nigerian affairs through Yar'Adua after he steps down.
"FAIR AND SQUARE"
Yar'Adua, who has denied he would be Obasanjo's puppet, defended his election victory.
"I believe I won this election fair and square," he told the BBC in an interview late on Wednesday.
"Anybody who is aggrieved has the right to seek redress in our law courts and once the law courts pass judgment I will respect whatever judgment the law courts pass," he said.
Opposition parties have rejected Yar'Adua's landslide victory and are calling for mass protests on May Day. Some opposition politicians have said they wanted the election cancelled and re-run under an interim government.
"The Nigerian constitution does not provide for an interim national government. You see, that call sounds to me like the era of the military," Yar'Adua said.
Nigeria, which is also Africa's biggest oil producer, returned to civilian government in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous military rule.
"If today the election tribunal rules that the election has not complied substantially with the rules, I will willingly accept. But if someone says they want elections cancelled without proper due process I will not agree," Yar'Adua said.
Nigeria also held elections for state governors and houses of assembly on April 14, and observers reported widespread abuses on that day as well.
Candidates have five weeks after the elections to take their complaints to electoral tribunals, but in many cases polling did not happen at all, so electoral fraud will be hard to prove.