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President Omar al-Bashir presses Sudan election despite boycott

The main opposition party did not back off from its announced boycott of the upcoming Sudan election, the country's first vote in 24 years. President Omar al-Bashir says that the vote must proceed.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / April 5, 2010

Sudan election: A Sudanese woman waits for the bus in front of an electoral picture of Sudanese President and presidential candidate Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, Monday. The opposition party is boycotting the election.

Nasser Nasser/AP

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Khartoum, Sudan

The main opposition party stuck to its announced boycott of the Sudan election over the weekend, but the ruling party of President Omar al-Bashir, the country’s election commission, and even the US envoy to Sudan say that the upcoming election – the first in 24 years – must proceed.

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On April 1, the chief opposition candidate for president, Yasir Arman of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew from the April 11-13 elections, saying that the process would not be fair. Among his complaints were the ongoing security problems in the war-torn Darfur region, and problems with the voter registration process and census.

Yet Moktar Al-Ahsan, a member of Sudan’s National Election Commission, says, “We are confident that the elections will be completed on time, and they will be supported by the people to vote.” The Sudanese people are “keen to participate in the process,” he adds, noting that some 84 percent of all Sudanese people of voting age have registered to vote. The Democratic Unionists, who had initially joined the boycott, have since rejoined the race.

“There is nothing new in what the opposition is saying,” he says. “We have reviewed their complaints, and accepted some of their objections and others, the opposition went to court and we were obliged to make changes. But now, we are bound by the timetable as it is.”

Main parties stray from original goal of elections

These elections were intended to help Sudan put a 21-year civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south behind it, and to work toward a resolution of cultural and political tensions that continue to pervade Sudanese politics. But a 2005 peace agreement and five years of shared power in a government of national unity have done little to ease the distrust between the southern SPLM and the northern National Congress Party (NCP).

Today, it appears both of the main parties are merely going through the motions, with entirely different goals in mind. The opposition SPLM – a secular party that draws its support from the Christian south – sees these elections as a step toward secession from Sudan. The ruling NCP – an Islamist-backed party from the Muslim north – sees the elections as a chance to end international sanctions and to gain legitimacy.

And neither party seems eager to allow the other side to achieve its own ends, a bullheadedness that could create further conflict.

“This is about trust, but it is also about the issue of unity,” says Fouad Hikmat, a Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group’s office in Nairobi. The SPLM wants to hold elections in order to move to speed up its secession from Sudan, he says.

But “the NCP wants free elections to give this government and Omar al-Bashir legitimacy. If the conditions for free and fair elections are there, he [President Bashir] can claim legitimacy, but legitimacy comes from the acceptance of the Sudanese people themselves.

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