International observers have disagreed on whether Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years were free and fair. While western observers and media say the election falls “far short” of international standards, African and Middle Eastern observers say it was successful despite defects. The vote was held over five days last week and results have not yet been formally announced but President Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party are expected to win comfortably. (photo: AFP)
Al-Bashir who took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 is hoping to legitimise his rule ahead of war crimes charges from the international criminal court. The country’s national election commission said the election results due tomorrow would be delayed further. An election official told AFP they could not set a definite date because the count was a “complicated process”.
Counting of the votes began on Friday amid logistical snags and charges of fraud. The Sudanese National Elections Commission has said 60 percent out of 16 million voters cast ballots. The election was marred by an opposition boycott and the withdrawal of two presidential candidates, the Umma party's Sadiq al-Mahdi and the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement's Yasser Arman. The NCP dominates the north of the country and currently rules alongside the SPLM as part of a peace deal that ended civil war in 2005, but there are significant tensions between the two parties.
The head of a 130-member EU observer mission in Sudan criticised the poll, saying there had been "significant deficiencies". Veronique de Keyser said the organisation of elections represented a complex challenge. “Unfortunately…deficiencies in voters’ lists and weak organisation hindered the voters’ participation,” she said. “I am also concerned that polling was affected by intimidation and threats. De Keyser said that although the elections paved the way for democratic progress, it is essential shortcomings are addressed to achieve a genuine democratic environment for future elections.
The EU’s position was endorsed by monitors from the US Carter Centre, run by former US president Jimmy Carter. A statement from the centre said it was apparent that the elections will fall short of meeting international standards and Sudan's obligations for genuine elections. "Unfortunately, many political rights and freedoms were circumscribed for most of this period, fostering distrust among the political parties,” the statement read. "Ultimately the success of the elections will depend on whether Sudan's leaders take action to promote lasting democratic transformation."
However Arab League observers said the election was a “big step forward” and will become “an example for other African and Arab countries”. The African Union also disagreed with the EU and Carter Centre assessments. The head of the AU observer’s mission, Kunle Adeyemi said it was not a perfect election but a historic one. “Looking into the fact this is a country that had not had a multi-party election for almost a generation…to say they are free and fair, to the best of our knowledge we have no reason to think the contrary,” Adeyemi said.
UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon was also upbeat about the success of the election. He welcomed efforts by the ruling parties in Sudan to enter dialogue with opposition candidates and parties. The UN said polls closed across Sudan today without any major violent incidents, although there were some reported cases of irregularities and opposition boycotts. In a statement, Ban said he “encourages all political actors in Sudan to tackle issues in a spirit of dialogue, towards a peaceful electoral outcome and ongoing implementation of the CPA [the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the north-south civil war]”.
That war is heading towards its inevitable conclusion next year. This is likely to be the last time Southern Sudan voters vote for their autonomous leaders within the Sudanese election. In January 2011 Southern Sudan votes on a referendum on full independence which most observers expect will be carried. However Juba, which is set to become the world's newest capital city, has no landline telephones, no public transport, no power grid, no industry, no agriculture and few buildings. Growing fears over a post-Sudan split is leading Southern Sudan to build new trade routes. One ambitious plan calls for a high speed railway line from Juba to Tororo in Uganda which would cost $7 billion. This railway line could facilitate the movement of goods and people to and from Juba to any part of the wider East African region including Mombasa, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.