Change in Nigeria?

March 31, 2015

All Progressives Congresses presidential candidate and Nigeria's former military ruler Muhammodu Buhari addresses a news conference outside his house after he voted in Daura

A result in Nigeria’s close-fought election is due to be announced later. With votes from only six of 36 states uncounted, opposition contender Muhammadu Buhari has a lead of over 2.5 million votes over President Goodluck Jonathan.

There is still scope for that to change with one of Jonathan’s big support bases in the oil-producing Niger Delta yet to report but there is the real prospect of a shock victory for a man who first came to power three decades ago via a military coup and has campaigned as a democrat intent on cleaning up the corrupt politics of Africa’s largest economy.

There could be a challenge to the result, and the threat of violence is never far away in Nigeria. The opposition fears voting may have been tampered with to boost Jonathan’s showing.

The United States and Britain said on Monday there were worrying signs of political interference in the count as results from the closest election since the end of military rule in 1999 trickled in.

Iran and six world powers have stepped up the pace of negotiations as both sides said it was crucial to overcome differences that could wreck an agreement.

They have set a deadline of midnight on Tuesday for a framework deal, which if secured would trigger three months to thrash out a comprehensive accord, but officials from both sides say it was possible the clock could be stopped allowing the talks to run over.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have been trying to break an impasse in negotiations aimed at stopping Iran from having the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb, in exchange for an easing of sanctions that cripple its economy. Disagreements on enrichment research and the pace of lifting sanctions are stumbling blocks and negotiators said the process could yet fall apart.

Germany has told Greece that no funds will be forthcoming until it has submitted a more detailed list of economic and fiscal reforms and some are enacted into law. In response, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for an “honest compromise” and said he would not agree to an unconditional deal.

The clock is ticking fast and the gap between the two sides remains wide. Athens submitted a reform list on Friday that officials in Brussels said amounted to “ideas” rather than a plan that Greece could submit to EU and IMF lenders to secure new funds before it runs out of cash next month.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Athens had a certain degree of flexibility on which reforms to implement but that they must “add up” to the satisfaction of European partners.

As things stand, euro zone finance officials are due to discuss the reform plans on Wednesday. That meeting would have to agree that the list stacks up before passing it on to the euro finance ministers grouping to nail down a deal.

We are a long way from that. Greece’s lenders have said it could take several more days before a proper list was ready. A source familiar with Greece’s financial position told Reuters last week Athens would run out of money on April 20 without new cash.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will head a joint meeting of the French and German cabinets in Berlin today. Greece is bound to feature, as is the Elysee’s economic reform plans. The ill-fated Germanwings plane will cast a long shadow.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls will stay behind to host a meeting of his Socialist party after a drubbing in weekend local elections.

Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party and its allies took over two thirds of the 102 local “departements” councils, the anti-immigration National Front got 62 of its candidates elected, a big jump from the 1 it had before the vote and Hollande’s Socialists limped in third, losing 26 of the 61 departements it held.

That makes French politics a firmly three-party affair though the FN’s showing still represents less than 2 percent of the total and it did not manage to win control of any departements. Some in the Socialist party may demand a reversion to more traditional political ground but the reform-minded Valls is unlikely to agree.

With Britain’s election campaign launched a GfK confidence survey, released overnight, showed consumer morale rose to its highest in nearly 13 years as households became more upbeat about the economic outlook and more willing to spend.

The big number of the day is the euro zone flash inflation figure for March which is forecast to creep up to -0.1 percent, way below the ECB’s target of close to but below two percent and demonstrating why it has launched into quantitative easing.

Having said that, real economy data have been coming in strong so far this year, suggesting euro zone growth could surprise on the upside and after Germany’s inflation number pushed back into positive territory at +0.1 percent year-on-year it’s not inconceivable that the rate for the whole currency bloc could do the same.

Romania’s central bank meets and may cut interest rates by another quarter point to a record low 2 percent.

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