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.
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.
An international arrest warrant has been placed for President Bashir, who is accused by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor of committing crimes against humanity for organizing the attacks of local Arab tribes against non-Arab-speaking farmers in the western region of Darfur. Some 300,000 lives have been lost in that ongoing seven-year conflict, and another 2.5 million displaced from their homes.
Why SPLM is boycotting the elections: interview
With seven days to go before polling begins, international envoys were attempting to keep the elections on track. US Special Envoy to Sudan (retired Gen.) Scott Gration met with government ministers and opposition candidates over the weekend. After meetings with the NEC members, he issued a statement late Saturday that he was “confident that elections will be held as scheduled and it will be as fair and transparent as possible.”
Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, an NCP spokesman and chief adviser to the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications, says that the SPLM’s election boycott comes as a complete surprise. “Until this time there was no information that the opposition parties will withdraw,” says Dr. Abdelatti. “I think the political parties are not justified to withdraw. They feel that if they enter these competitions, they will lose. So instead of losing, they start to make chaos.”
Yet Pagan Amom, the SPLM’s secretary general told the Monitor by phone from the southern capital of Juba, that there was no way the SPLM’s candidate for president or for assembly positions in the north could be contested.
“Our candidates in northern Sudan, including the presidential candidate, have decided to withdraw and to boycott the elections, because they will not be free and fair,” says Mr. Amom. “The National Election Commission is fully under the control and influence of one party, the NCP, they have taken decisions that are not transparent.”
“There is not a little ground for trust here,” with the NCP, he adds. Noting that the NEC decided to print ballot papers at a printing press owned by NCP members, despite protests from the UN and others, Amom says, “That just tells you that the process is rigged.”
Bashir's party: Voters, not SPLM, must decide on secession
Yet the SPLM will contest elections in southern areas, because “we want to let the elections get out of the way so we can go for popular consultations and a referendum.”
For its part, the National Congress Party of Bashir says the south is free to go its own way, but that it will be the people of Sudan who choose their elected leaders and it will be the people of southern Sudan and not the SPLM itself that will have the right to decide whether the question of unity or secession.
“These elections will not be decided by political parties, they should result in an elected government selected by the people,” says Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, an NCP member and chief advisor to the Minister of Information and Telecommunications. “We are committed to the CPA, and all the things included in it, including the referendum. We will abide by the results of the referendum, whether it is unity with the South and the North, or secession. We will respect our agreements.”