From Cif Guardian.co.uk
By Simon Tisdall, Friday 9 April 2010:
The elections won't be perfect, but the chorus of condemnation from those pursuing a Darfur-focused agenda misses the point
A Sudanese man kisses a picture of President Omar al-Bashir at a protest against the arrest warrant issued against him last year. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty
Not a single vote has yet been cast in Sudan's elections but already international pressure groups and domestic opponents of the current government are queuing up to rubbish the process. This chorus of condemnation seems a little premature. It also misses the point. While it's likely the polls will be flawed in important respects, in a fundamental sense, that does not matter. For the major players inside and outside Sudan, the elections, beginning on Sunday, are merely a staging post on a much longer journey.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, is among the most outspoken critics. He said sending EU and African Union observers to monitor the vote was a waste of time. "It's like monitoring a Hitler election," he said. Moreno-Ocampo urged western countries to concentrate instead on arresting Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, charged by the ICC with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Moreno-Ocampo has a particular axe to grind. Like the Waging Peace and the Save Darfur Coalition pressure groups, broader issues of democratic governance and implementation of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan's ruinous north-south civil war take second place, in his view, to the importance of avenging Darfur and arraigning Bashir in The Hague.
"It is clear to all observers that these much heralded 'multi-party elections' have never been more than an attempt by [Bashir] to legitimise his position in the eyes of the international community," said Sophie McCann of Waging Peace. The process was "unsalvageable". For its part, Save Darfur seized on the partial poll boycott by some opposition parties to urge the US, Britain and others to disown the whole business and condemn Bashir's "dictatorial rule".
Mixed motives also lie behind the decision of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main southern political party, to boycott polling in Darfur and the north. The SPLM and other opposition groups have voiced concerns about the accuracy of the 2008 census on which voting is based, the ruling National Congress party's (NCP) monopoly of state resources, and alleged bias of the national elections commission.
These worries are shared by independent organisations such as the Carter Centre (former US president Jimmy Carter is due in Sudan with 60 observers) and the International Crisis Group, which says many displaced Darfuris will be denied a vote. Human Rights Watch accuses both the government and the SPLM of intimidating political rivals, although the picture is mixed. Overall, media controls have been relaxed and some opposition leaders have been give airtime.
Yet Sudan experts say it's clear that the SPLM's main concern is not the elections at all, but rather avoiding any delay to January's CPA-directed referendum on southern independence (which is widely expected to result in Sudan's partition). Thus its decision not to contest the presidential or parliamentary votes in northern areas suits Bashir's NCP very well, despite protestations to the contrary. The unspoken deal is plain enough: Bashir the bogeyman gets re-elected and relegitimised, while the south (comprising 25% of the population) and its US-backed president, Salva Kiir, gets independence (and 50% of Sudan's oil wealth).
Political opportunism and pragmatism have combined neatly. "The SPLM decided to pull out simply because they know they are not going to win the presidency," said NCP official Omar Rahma in an al-Jazeera interview. Nor does the SPLM seem troubled by the fact that its unilateral decision to mount a partial boycott threw other opposition parties, with which it was supposedly co-ordinating, into confusion. That the SPLM boycott worries western pressure groups is a measure of their naivety.
The Obama administration and Britain cannot be accused of such credulousness. What they most want from these elections is already clear – and it is not a democratic showcase or Bashir's arrest. They want north-south deals on border demarcation and oil-revenue sharing, settlements in trouble spots such as Abyei and South Kordofan, and a successful independence referendum as envisaged by the CPA. The US, in particular, sees a future southern Sudanese republic as an important ally.
The western powers see in this outcome the prospect of a final, lasting peace in Darfur, wider regional stability encompassing Chad, and ultimately, Khartoum's rehabilitation. A recent joint statement by the foreign secretary David Miliband and the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton set priorities: "Irrespective of the outcome of elections, it is essential that work continues and is accelerated to meet remaining CPA deadlines."
Predictions that Sudan's elections will produce an Afghanistan-style fiasco of rigging and recrimination misunderstand the position. All the main actors want a success, and that is what they will most probably deem the polls to be, with the usual caveats and reservations, almost whatever the outcome. This conformity of purpose elicited a remarkable boast from Bashir, speaking in Sinar on the Blue Nile last week: "Even America is becoming an NCP member. No one is against our will."
Simon Tisdall (pictured above) is an assistant editor of the Guardian and a foreign affairs columnist. He was previously a foreign leader writer for the paper and has also served as its foreign editor and its US editor, based in Washington DC. He was the Observer's foreign editor from 1996-98
Former US President Jimmy Carter speaks to reporters as he arrives at Khartoum International Airport, ahead of the country's national elections on April 11. "We are hoping and praying that it will be a fair and honest election for those are participating," Carter said. (AFP/Ashraf Shazly Thu Apr 8, 2010)
Former US President Jimmy Carter, left, leaves after speaking to the media following his arrival in the capital Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 8, 2010. The Carter Center said Thursday that former President Jimmy Carter will be among the official observers when Sudan conducts national elections next week. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)
A Sudanese man reads a newspaper under posters of presidential candidates in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A campaign poster for Sudan People's Liberation Movement's southern presidential candidate Salva Kiir hangs from a tree in a remote village in Dongoi in Western Equatorial State, April 7, 2010. (Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)
Sudanese election officials receive training during a mock voting session ahead of Sunday's general election, in the village of Mvolo in Western Equatorial State, April 7, 2010. (Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)
Workers from the National Elections Commission (NEC) prepare polling boxes at the central NEC ballot distribution center in Khartoum April 8, 2010. (Reuters/Mohamed Nurdldin)
Workers from the National Elections Commission (NEC) carry polling boxes at the central NEC ballot distribution center in Khartoum April 8, 2010. (Reuters/Mohamed Nurdldi)
A Sudanese worker from the National Elections Commission (NEC) checks ballot boxes at the central NEC ballot distribution center of Khartoum April 8, 2010 (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
Sonia, a French adviser for the Sudanese National Elections Commission (NEC), checks ballot boxes at the central NEC ballot distribution center of Khartoum April 8, 2010. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
A Sudanese worker loads election material including ballot papers and voting booths into a waiting helicopter of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur, UNAMID to be transported to the voting center of the north Darfur town of Mellit, in the airport of el Fasher, Darfur, Sudan Thursday, April 8, 2010. Preparations continue for the upcoming multiparty general elections in Sudan starting on April 13. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
A Sudanese refugee boy walks past a UNAMID (African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur) vehicle near a polling station at Abou Shouk refugee camp, on the outskirts of the north Darfur capital of el Fasher, Sudan, Wednesday, April 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
A UNAMID (African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur) peacekeeper stands guard near a polling station, in background, at Abou Shouk refugee camp, on the outskirts of the North Darfur capital of el Fasher, Sudan, Wednesday, April 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Sudanese refugee boys stand by a UNAMID (African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur) peacekeeper guarding a nearby polling station at Abou Shouk refugee camp, on the outskirts of the North Darfur capital of el Fasher, Sudan, Wednesday, April 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
UNAMID (African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur) peacekeepers patrol the area surrounding a polling station at Abou Shouk refugee camp, on the outskirts of the north Darfur capital of el Fasher, Sudan, Wednesday, April 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Sudanese police patrol in the town of Al Fasher, northern Darfur April 8, 2010. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)
European Union chief elections observer Veronique De Keyser speaks to journalists at Abu Shouk camp outside El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, April 7, 2010. (Reuters/Andrew Heavens)
European Union election observers leave El Fasher airport in North Darfur, led by EU chief observer Veronique De Keyser (centre), April 7, 2010. The European Union on Wednesday withdrew its election observers from Sudan's Darfur region, saying safety fears were hindering their work. (Reuters/Andrew Heavens)
A European Union election observer boards a plane at El Fasher airport in North Darfur April 7, 2010. (Reuters/Andrew Heavens)
A Sudanese woman crosses the street infront of a vehicle with electoral posters on the hood at the main market of the Darfur town of el Fasher, Sudan Thursday, April 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
A disabled woman on a tricycle rides past campaign posters for the upcoming April 11 presidential and legislative elections in the town of Al Fasher, northern Darfur April 8, 2010. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)
A Sudanese woman uses her mobile while passing by electoral posters at the main market of the Darfur town of el Fasher, Sudan Thursday, April 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Confused Signals From SPLM Over Northern Boycott - Or Is It Withdrawal?
SRS - Friday, 9 April 2010 (Juba) – SPLM chairman Salva Kiir Mayardit says his party has withdrawn its candidate for the presidency, Yasir Arman, but has not called for a general boycott of the elections in the north, as announced on Wednesday by the SPLM secretary-general, Pagan Amum.
SSHEC Satisfied With Progress of Elections Run-Up
SRS - Friday, 9 April 2010 (Merowe) – President Omar al-Bashir has reiterated that there will be free and fair elections throughout the country. Addressing the public during the official opening of a hydro-electric plant at Merowe Dam on Thursday, President al-Bashir said elections which will begin on Sunday will be free of any irregularities. President al-Bashir was speaking at Merowe Dam, at the end of his presidential campaign.
Al-Bashir Says Elections Shall Be Fair Because It Is God's Will
SRS - Friday, 9 April 2010 (Juba) – The South Sudan High Elections Committee has described the campaign period for the April elections as ‘peaceful and without irregularities’. Jersa Kide Barsaba told SRS that the Committee has only received one official complaint which it could not verify.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaks to the press after meeting officials of the national election commission at their headquarters in Khartoum April 9, 2010. Sudan's first multi-party elections in 24 years are on track to start on Sunday, with Khartoum dismissing a U.S. suggestion that it would consider supporting a brief delay to ensure greater stability. (Reuters/Mohamed Nurdldin Fri Apr 9, 1:11 PM ET)
International observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center prepare to leave for Sudan's Northern states to monitor voting, in Khartoum April 9, 2010. Reuters/Mohamed Nurdldin Fri Apr 9, 1:38 PM ET)