Sudan’s president, Mr. Omar al-Bashir has threatened United States-funded election observers, Carter Center, with expulsion and attacks, should elections scheduled for April 11 be postponed. The anticipated poll will be the first legitimately multi-party vote in Sudan since 1986.
Carter Center has said it would postpone the election date, earmarked to take place from April 11 to 13 as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that ended over two decades of war, for fear of inadequate security of civilians, chronic instability in the south and a continuing refugee crisis in the Darfur region.
Speaking in the eastern town of Port Sudan, Mr. al-Bashir told his supporters that: “We have accepted the arrival of foreign observers [Carter Center] for the elections, but if they ask that the vote be postponed, we will expel them. We expect observers to say whether the elections are free and fair, but if they intervene in our affairs, then we will cut off their fingers and crush them under our shoes.”
Mr. Bashir who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1989, is wanted by the international criminal court for war crimes in Darfur where hundreds of thousands of people still live in refugee camps after a separate conflict. He has been elected as president twice in ballots which were largely boycotted by most opposition parties, and he remains well-liked in the north of the country and so is expected to be re-elected as president for a third term.
However, the Carter Center, which operates the only long-term supervising mission in Sudan, expressed concerns that the forthcoming elections were at risk on multiple fronts. The general election will be the first since the end of a two decade civil war in 2005.
“Logistical preparations are straining the limited capacity of the NEC [National Election Commission]. With a series of delays and changes in polling procedures, a minor delay in polling for operational purposes may be required,” a statement from the center read.
Reiterating the concerns of the Carter Center, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that there was government [al-Bashir’s government] oppression of the opposition, and there was no freedom of speech and of the press which undermines the chances of holding a convincing ballot vote.
Other parties against elections timing
Meanwhile, 17 parties, with the exception of Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Popular Congress Party (PCP), have also called for the postponement of the elections until reforms in a number of areas, especially national security and media are made.
They also insist on pre-requisites for an inclusive electoral process that is free and fair. The pre-requisites include: “a Solution to the Darfur Problem; The demarcation of boundaries between the North and South; a political agreement to address the dispute over the population census; Reinstate the independence of the civil service, especially the media.”
SPLM on its part has complained that a good number of names of its supporters are missing from the voters’ list. SPLM official, Felix Okanyi Remijo, confirmed that in the eastern Equatoria state of southern Sudan alone, some “11,000 names are missing from the voters list.”
But despite the concerns stated by the Carter Center and Human Right Watch, NEC has vowed to carry on with the planed April 11 elections.
Undermining the election environment is the violence between rival ethnic groups which claims hundreds of lives each year in the south, making it difficult to ensure security should the election be allowed to run.
The 22-year conflict between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south claimed the lives of some 1.5 million people.
In the last month, Mr. al-Bashirs government signed a ceasefire with major Darfur rebel groups leaving just one band of rebels in open conflict. The peace deals have been described as a step forward to finding peace in Darfur, but agreements made in the past have so far had very little impact on the ground.
With April around the corner, Mr. al-Bashir’s government has been winning supporters with his efforts to win over rebels ahead of the polls, while international pressure has been high on him to find a solution. However experts believe that as more groups negotiate with the government, pressure may build on those still fighting to open talks for future deals.