Sudan election problems: few enough to be legitimate?
As voting ended today in Sudan's election, voters in the south complained about being unable to find their names on the voter rolls. Jimmy Carter says the election is a major stepping stone in the peace process.
Johannesburg, South Africa and Juba, Sudan
At nightfall today, voting in Sudan’s first elections in 24 years will come to an end. But the discussion of whether this five-day-long exercise was a legitimate election is just beginning.Skip to next paragraph
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From the earliest hours of Sunday it was clear that there were problems in the process.
Set aside the fact that most of the opposition were boycotting the elections in Sudan's north, which they viewed as rigged. Registered voters, particularly in the south, complained after visits to multiple polling stations that they couldn’t find their names, and thus couldn’t vote.
Ballot boxes filled up faster than expected in places, because of the size of the ballot paper. The illiteracy of many voters, especially among women, and the fact that many Sudanese were casting votes for the first time, all of this slowed down the process, forcing the National Election Commission to extend voting by two additional days.
Yet, despite the hurdles, voters like Santino Atiang Dut Atiang seem determined to cast their votes. Mr. Atiang has carried his registration slip to at least 15 polling stations since voting started on Sunday, but has yet to find his name. Why does he continue? “I want to vote,” he says.
With not one but two wars hanging in the balance, the credibility of Sudan’s elections is crucial. This election is a major milestone in the five-year-old Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the warring north and southern parts of Sudan – and it will be watched carefully by separate rebel movements in the Darfur region on whether they can trust the Sudanese government in Khartoum to make place for differing points of view in a new democratically run Sudan.
“The legitimacy of these elections depends on two things: the legal criteria for voter turnout must be 60 percent in order for this to be seen as the legitimate voice of the people, and if not, there must be a runoff; and secondly, these elections must be accepted by the people who participate in them, and will they be able to deal with each other under a new government,” says Fouad Hikmat, a Sudan expert at the International Crisis Group’s office in Nairobi.
“I hope these political forces will ... not allow violence to happen after the results come out,” Mr. Hikmat adds.
SPLM boycott roils
Even before polling started on Sunday, 12 of the main opposition parties, including the largest one, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew their presidential candidates from the elections, citing logistical problems, and a lack of access to state-run media. SPLM voters in Khartoum seemed to have the wind knocked out of them at the announcement of the boycott, since they saw this as their last chance to bring about democratic reform to Sudan, which has lived under a military dictatorship for 22 years.
Infighting within the SPLM confounded the problems, with some SPLM leaders in the north insisting that the boycott was total, and SPLM leaders in the south saying there was no boycott at all, beyond the withdrawal of presidential candidate Yasir Arman.