SUDAN: A flawed election would be better than none, for it would mean progress towards a peaceful north-south split
A flawed election would be better than none, for it would mean progress towards a peaceful north-south split.
The Umma National Party has joined the SPLM, the Communist Party and the Umma Party in boycotting elections at all levels in northern Sudan.
Full story below.
Hunt the missing voter
From The Economist print edition
Thursday 08 April 2010 KHARTOUM
Chaos and confusion reign in Sudan’s first multiparty elections for 24 years. But the vote could yet benefit a huge country that is likely soon to split into twoRelated reports
IN SOME respects electioneering in Sudan would be instantly recognisable to the thousands of would-be MPs who set off on the campaign trail this week in Britain. Sudanese candidates, preparing for the presidential and general election that is due to start on April 11th and continue until the 13th, get on “battle-buses” to meet their constituents, are tended by party hacks and helped along by the odd spin-doctor. They address the party faithful at set-piece rallies, even if there is more ululating than on the average British hustings. And the crowds that listen to them are bored or ecstatic, depending largely on how long the candidates speak for.
But the differences are large. For one thing, no one is sure whether the polls will take place on time—if at all. Take Mariam al-Mahdi’s tour of her constituency this week. A parliamentary candidate, she is a leader of the Umma party, the main northern opposition to President Omar al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP). She had two big quandaries. The first was whether her party would, in the end, be competing, since it had called for the poll to be postponed. Her second was whether she could find the voters.
Though there were supposed to be 47,000 of them registered in the red desert that forms the largest part of her “Area 11” constituency, it was hard to find anyone who knew much about the election, let alone a registered voter. At the tiny hamlet of Wadi al-Faki, a few mud huts about 50km (30 miles) west of Omdurman, the city that is across the Nile from the capital, Khartoum, a local man said that 20 of the 40 adults had registered. But according to the official register, this and a similar neighbouring village were supposed to be bulging with 622 voters. Farther down the road, another scruffy settlement called Wadi al-Saial was said to have only about 50 people, children included. But officially there were 478 registered voters. Where are the phantom voters? “Maybe they were underground,” joked an Umma official.
At the end of the day the Umma team took a long drive through a vast shanty town on the fringes of Omdurman itself, damningly known as the “black belt” to the lighter-skinned Arabs of Khartoum. Here live hundreds of thousands of the poorest Sudanese, displaced from Darfur or the south, regions where the present regime’s wars have killed a huge number and made millions homeless. Yet Ms Mahdi believes that only 5,000 of the shanty town’s voters (among whom are many of Mr Bashir’s most bitter opponents) have been included in her constituency.
The conclusion drawn by the Umma team is that the government-appointed National Election Commission (NEC) has boosted the number of voters in places where the NCP thinks people will vote for it and severely under-registered neighbourhoods where its opponents are strong. Come polling day, some suggest, an anonymous official finger will stamp the box by the tree, the ruling party’s election symbol in a country where about half the population is illiterate. If this sort of rigging works across the country, Mr Bashir should easily win the presidential race.
This precooking of the election eventually persuaded Ms Mahdi’s Umma party, three days before the vote, to say it would boycott the poll at every level. The Communists had already pulled out. The main southern opposition party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its presidential candidate and most of its parliamentary ones in the north. Yet the boycott seemed certain to give Mr Bashir, wanted for alleged crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, a virtual walk-over.
So confusion reigns. The candidates’ names and symbols have already been printed on ballot papers. Many voters will have no idea which party is boycotting what particular level of election. If voters pick boycotting candidates, will the winners take up their seats? Perhaps, to appease the opposition a little, the NEC could declare a short postponement of the election to sort out some of the irregularities. This is unlikely but could yet happen.
What went wrong?
It was all supposed to turn out so differently. The election was sold as the mechanism for “democratic transformation” in Africa’s largest country. It is an integral part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed between the Muslim north of the country and the Christian and animist south in 2005. The CPA brought an end to Africa’s longest-running civil war—which had cost 2m lives and forced millions to flee their homes, often to the black belt around Omdurman and Khartoum—and was designed to resolve the country’s problems at a stroke.
A root cause of Sudan’s terrible civil conflicts has been the concentration of wealth and power in the centre at the expense of the regions: the south and also Darfur, where a full-scale rebellion erupted in 2003. It was hoped that the elections, which are being held at local, state and federal level, would make the rulers more responsive to the needs and wishes of the ruled. But this is not a prospect that particularly appeals to the two parties that have ruled Sudan since 2005, the NCP in the north and the SPLM in the semi-autonomous south.
Mr Bashir and his NCP, who seized power from Sudan’s last democratically elected government in a coup in 1989, have for the past ten years been concerned mainly with enjoying the country’s oil wealth. This has come courtesy of the Chinese, who buy most of it. Unsurprisingly, the Sudanese leaders are determined by one means or another to remain in control.
The SPLM, for its part, is focused on an entirely different election: the referendum on southern secession that was promised as part of the CPA. This is due to take place in the south next January. Should most southerners vote for independence, as they are expected to, Africa could have its first new state for almost 20 years—ruled by the SPLM.
Determined to get to the referendum without upset, the SPLM has been accused throughout the election of suppressing any opposition to its rule. Its leader, Salva Kiir, is contesting only the presidency of south Sudan, thus demonstrating that his party is now bent entirely on consolidating its position in its own backyard.
Yet even though the election may be a charade, it could have positive results. If Mr Bashir gets his way at the vote, he may be more inclined to let the south leave Sudan peacefully. This event will profoundly change the map of east Africa. It may even alter the politics of north Sudan in ways that, for now, are hard to imagine.
It is also true that despite the government’s restrictions on opposition campaigning, the Sudanese have been able to speak openly about political matters for the first time in years. The sight of opposition politicians on television, even for just 20 minutes, denouncing Mr Bashir for corruption and misgovernment has been a revelation. Now there is hunger for more discussion and more politics.
This week, at an evening rally in Khartoum for the Islamist Popular Congress Party, a lawyer in a flowing jellabiya repeatedly denounced Mr Bashir as a liar, accusing him of being a hypocrite and a stooge of the CIA. This sort of talk in public was unthinkable only a few months ago. Young men hovered at the back of the open-air site, unsure whether to sit down and join in the new politics or lurk safely in the dark, as they are used to.
At several opposition rallies, the economy has been discussed. So far as Mr Bashir has a political platform, he is running on his economic record. All his campaign posters picture him smiling in front of some new development project: the (Chinese-built) Merowe dam, the latest (part Chinese) oil refinery or a new (Chinese-built) road, all the benefits of Mr Bashir’s rule. But the Umma party argues that the country’s oil bonanza has benefited very few Sudanese, and most of those are in the areas north of Khartoum, where most of the NCP leaders are from. Despite all the oil, the vast majority of Sudanese have no easy access to schools or health care.
The campaign has helped opposition parties to reconnect with their supporters, relearning the art of politics and discussing the state of the country openly for the first time in a generation. Nobody knows exactly where this will lead, but the fact that the government is obviously worried tells its own story. For many, particularly, the young, it is heady stuff.
Darfur may also have benefited from the elections, albeit obliquely. Mr Bashir knows that the western region contains the second-biggest number of voters after the south, so he has had to make some peace moves there in the past few months to shore up his support. A peace deal negotiated with neighbouring Chad is holding, and Mr Bashir has also signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement with two Darfuri rebel groups. These deals have provided some much-needed momentum to the meandering Darfur peace talks that are being held in Qatar. The level of violence has also declined slightly.
None of this may outlast the election. There were reports this week that government forces had already clashed with one of the two Darfuri groups that signed the deal. The main rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur, still refuses to enter into any talks with the government.
And Darfur remains the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Although fewer people are now being killed, fighting continues and more than 3m people are stuck in refugee camps, either in Darfur itself or in eastern Chad. As a result, about 4m Darfuris still rely on food aid from the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). Few refugees in the camps bothered to register for a vote, fearing that this would prejudice their right to return to their real homes. Whatever happens at the election, the distressed region still awaits a political settlement that the Darfuris themselves feel they are part of.
Attention will soon switch to the south and its referendum. Few African heads of state want to endorse the break-up of Sudan, for fear that it would encourage similar secessionist movements elsewhere. Nonetheless, some African leaders have now publicly accepted the obvious: they may not like secession but, if it is done amicably, there is nothing to stop it.
However, just as the election has focused attention on the failings of the NCP, so the SPLM will attract scrutiny once the debate turns to the south. There is mounting concern about the misgovernment of the south and fear about its future vulnerability as a state. After five years of SPLM rule, too many health and social indicators are slipping backwards. According to the WFP, for instance, the number of malnourished people in the south has now crept up to 47% of the population. That is an ominous statistic for a freshly minted African country. As ever with Sudan, optimism and pessimism go hand in hand.
Al-Mahdi Explains Reasons for Elections Boycott
SRS - Sudan Radio Service, Thursday, 8 April 2010:
(Khartoum) – The Umma party has announced that it is boycotting the general elections at all levels.
The leader of the Umma party and its former Presidential candidate, the former Prime Minister of the Sudan, Imam Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi, addressed a press conference in Omdurman on Thursday and explained the reasons for the boycott.
[Sadig Al-Mahdi]: “Our main concern was the issue of the transportation and control of the ballots and the fact that the number of polling centers was reduced to less than half of the original number. This denied other parties in the states the chance of participation in the elections and the National Elections Commission did nothing about this issue and this led to the general boycott of these flawed elections. When the issue was discussed for the second time, the view of the majority of our political bureau was in favor a complete boycott of the elections. The political bureau yesterday took its decision to boycott of elections at all levels because these elections do not represent the real will of the people of Sudan."
He urged that general elections should be held in Sudan after the self-determination referendum for Southern Sudan and after finding lasting peace to Darfur.
[Sadig Al-Mahdi]: “And from this platform and despite our position regarding the results of these elections, we, together with all political forces, will cooperate to achieve a just and lasting comprehensive peace and solve the Darfur crisis. We will continue our cooperation with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to improve the chance of a just unity or brotherly neighborhood. We will continue to cooperate with all the opposition forces inside and outside the new constitutional institutions for the attainment of liberties and seek lasting solutions to the Darfur crisis and work to conduct free and fair general elections after the self-determination referendum for Southern Sudan, after we have found a lasting peace for Darfur.”
Al- Madhi, who was the last democratically elected leader of Sudan in 1986 before being overthrown in 1989 by President Omer Hassan al-Bashir, claimed that opinion polls conducted in northern Sudan suggested that his party would win fifty-one percent of the parliamentary seats in northern Sudan if they participated in the elections.
The Umma National Party has joined the SPLM, the Communist Party and the Umma Party in boycotting elections at all levels in northern Sudan.
Let those people go
The Economist print edition, Thursday, 8 April 2010:
A flawed election would be better than none, for it would mean progress towards a peaceful north-south split
Ballots delivered to Nagero, Western Equatoria
ReliefWeb (UNMIS press release) - Thursday April 8, 2010
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Khartoum insists elections will make Sudanese 'proud'
Earthtimes (press release) - Thursday April 8, 2010
By: dpa NewYork - Sudan said Thursday that national elections scheduled for this weekend will take place as planned ...
Sudan President Bashir insists elections will be fair
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Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has insisted that the forthcoming elections will be "free and fair". In a speech on the campaign trail, Mr Bashir said the ...
Carter Arrives in Sudan, Expresses Hope for Successful Election
BusinessWeek - Maram Mazen - Thursday April 8, 2010 (Bloomberg)
Former US President Jimmy Carter expressed “regret” that some opposition parties have pulled out of Sudan's first ...
"Disturbing trends" ahead of Sudan polls: US envoy
AFP - Thursday April 8, 2010
Police on Standby to Provide Security During Elections
SRS (Sudan Radio Service) - Thursday April 8, 2010:
(Khartoum) – The Sudanese police has announced that more than 100,000 police officers will be deployed in 14 states in the north during the elections.Former Mediator Expresses Concern at Situation in Sudan
The official spokesperson for the elections security committee in Khartoum state, General Mohamed Ahmed Ali, addressed the media on Wednesday and said the police is ready to carry out its duties during the election period.
[General Mohamed Ahmed Ali]: “The force exceeds 100,000, they have been prepared and trained to cooperate with elections process, they are provided with enough equipment, the number is really quite enough, the number and the equipment will help the police to carry out its duty in different parts of Sudan and inside cities in an effective manner. We are taking precautionary measures, and this will continue during elections period, during voting, after the voting and when the results are announced.”
General Mohamed Ahmed Ali said that the federal police carried out several maneuvers with the Southern Sudan Police Force to ensure calm during the elections throughout Sudan.
SRS (Sudan Radio Service) - Thursday April 8, 2010 (Nairobi)
The former chief mediator of the CPA, Lazarus Sumbeiyo told SRS in Nairobi on Thursday that current political situation in the whole of Sudan is unstable.
General Sumbeiyo is appealing to parties who are boycotting the elections to resolve their disagreements and to participate in the elections.