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.
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For their part, National Election Commission members – all chosen by the Khartoum government – worked to reassure voters and the press that the process would be fair. Mukhtar Al-Asam, a senior NEC commissioner, assured reporters at a press conference before the voting began that the polls “cannot be rigged.” “International experts have examined this system, and they tell us it cannot be rigged,” Mr. Al-Asam told reporters. Every precaution, from ballot papers with serial numbers to numbered zip-ties to prevent ballot-box tampering, has been taken, he said.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet the best-laid plans of Khartoum may not have taken account of the unadministered confusion that often marks life in Sudan.
At polling stations in Khartoum, voters were few in areas loyal to the opposition, and jam-packed in areas where the ruling National Congress Party is strong. Voter enthusiasm was high, too, in the South, despite the fact that many Southerners intend to vote in favor of secession in a referendum to be held in January 2011. But the inability of voters to find their names on registration lists sent many voters home without casting a ballot.
Where's my polling station?
In Juba, unscientific counts by both foreign reporters and by the SPLM put percentage of voter turnout at most places between 30 percent and 60 percent by the end of the third day, with little turnout Wednesday. At some polling stations in Juba, only 20 to 40 of the 750 potential voters had cast ballots by Wednesday.
Most south Sudanese head to where they registered to vote late last year, but their names have been subdivided across a wider swath of polling stations with no apparent system to help the voter locate his proper place.
“Voters are tired,” says James Duku Isaac, the head official at a Juba polling station, who said dozens of would-be voters left his station in frustration upon not locating their names. “People are moving from station to station around Juba. They are searching for their names. They have the heart, but they can’t find their names. This is the problem.”
“There are so many things NEC could have done properly if they really cared,” says Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the SPLM, accusing the election commission of “negligence.”
Some of these problems were anticipated, says Ms. Itto. The SPLM ran mock voting exercises before the vote, and found that 80 percent of illiterate voters spoiled their ballots, voting for more than one candidate in the same race, for instance. This figure dropped to 11 percent for literate voters, still an alarming figure.
One woman, early in the Sunday morning queue outside a rural polling center near Terekeka, was clearly baffled about how to vote. After trying to first mark the ballot with her inked finger, she then had to be shown by an election official how to hold a pen, a basic instrument she had clearly never used before. She is not alone. Eighty-eight percent of women here are illiterate, according to UNFPA.
Southern Sudan’s vice president, Riek Machar, had to go five different polling centers before finding his name, according to his wife Angelina Teny, an independent candidate contesting for the seat of oil-rich Unity state. “And he’s lucky,” she said by phone, saying that in rural areas many had to travel many kilometers, searching desperately in brutal mid-day heat for the right tree-shaded station.