NAIROBI - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared Nigeria's corruption and electoral problems with the 2000 Florida presidential election recount during a town hall meeting today in Abuja, Nigeria.
Answering a question about Nigeria's recent election, Clinton said, "In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for President was the governor of the state. So we have our problems too."
But Clinton praised the 2008 U.S. election as an example of how democracy should work.
"I know a little bit about running elections and I have won some elections, and, I have lost some elections," she said. She pointed to her loss to now-President Obama, and the subsequent joining of his administration, as a way forward for Nigeria's next general election.
"In my country the man that I was running against and spent a lot of time and effort to defeat, asked me to join his government. So there is a way to begin to make this transition that will lead to free and fair elections in 2011," Clinton said.
The State Department backed Clinton's claims Wednesday afternoon, saying she made the comparison to note that, despite the problems there, there was a peaceful transfer of power in the U.S.
"The point she is making is that it's about a disputed result and then the willingness of the candidates to accept a flawed result rather than, say resort to violence," said Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs PJ Crowley.
Nigeria is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Wide-spread voter fraud was reported in Nigeria's last general election in 2007, which saw now President Umaru Yar'Adua declared the winner. Accusations of missing ballot boxes, inflated voter counts and even some voters being shot at polling stations were made by opposition candidates.
International criticism of the election was swift and harsh. The Chief European Union election observer, Max van den Berg, said the election fell short of international standards, was poorly organized and lacked transparency.
"The process cannot be considered to be credible," he told reporters.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who headed an observer team, also condemned the process. "Regrettably, 2007 represents a step backward in the conduct of elections in Nigeria" she said. "In many places, in a number of ways, the electoral process failed the Nigerian people."
In the 2000 election, Americans had to wait over one month before George Bush was declared the next president. The election was so close that Gore ordered a recount of the vote in the state of Florida, where George Bush's brother Jeb was the governor. Over the course of the recount, Americans became familiar with the term "chad" - a punched square of paper used for the voting. There were "hanging chads" and "floating chads" as each vote was scrutinized by hand. Finally the republican-leaning Supreme Court ruled that the recount could not continue, effectively giving the state to Bush. Al Gore then conceded and George Bush was declared the 43rd President of the United States.