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  Global Views
The Democratic Mudslide of Sudan
By Hany Besada
CIGI Senior Researcher
As expected, Sudan's incumbent President Omar al-Bashir won the national presidential poll with approximately 68% of the vote, despite facing war crimes charges over Darfur. The April elections were touted to be the country’s first multi-party democratic elections since 1986. Back in July 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, accused the Sudanese leader of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sudan’s troubled western region, a conflict that left more than 300,000 people killed and another 2.7 million internally displaced. In March 2009, the court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader.

The people of Sudan held high hopes for the elections of April 11-15, 2010. With opposition parties on the ballot, even featuring the country’s first-ever female candidate for presidency, it appeared that 2005’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is achieving one of its key provisions, paving the way to the 2011 referendum vote on the independence of South Sudan from Khartoum.

What began in 1983 as a war between the Muslim north and the largely animist and Christian south ended in January 2005, when Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the CPA, effectively ending one of Africa's longest running civil conflicts that killed more than 2 million people and displaced another 4 million. But the election process proved to be rather “unreal” with the country’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) accused of widespread fraud, a feat to which the supposedly impartial National Election Commission promptly turned a blind eye to and subsequently denied.

As the result of a tainted lead-up to the elections, the majority of prominent opposition parties, like the north’s Umma party and the south’s SPLM party, opted to pull out from the northern contest, rather than participate in the sham that followed, ironically labeled “democratic” elections. With the electoral process severely undermined what does the election mean for Sudan? For starters, the central administration in Khartoum, under the leadership of President Bashir, has once again proved itself to be unwilling to share power with the rest of the country’s struggling regions.

Indeed, election officials have purposely isolated voters likely to tilt against Bashir and his NCP through rigging the census and electoral registration process, ultimately denying the vote to the many people living in Sudan’s internally displaced camps. Government and election officials have also imposed unreasonable restrictions on opposition party campaigns and rallies, restricted air time dedicated to their competition, and severely censored opposition party campaign platforms.

While people still turned up at the poorly organized ballot boxes and participation was deemed high by the EU observer mission at 60 percent, hopeful voters were confronted with inadequate administration, complete with missing names from voter lists, candidates appearing on multiple ballots, stations operating without ballot papers, not to mention the shameless rigging, with one of the election workers caught stuffing ballot boxes on camera. EU and US independent observers immediately criticized the process’ inadequacy and deemed it fell short of meeting international standards, but declined to openly call it a failure.

In all fairness, the election is the first one for Sudan in 24 years. Severely underdeveloped infrastructure, low literacy rates among voters, and an intricate and complicated electoral design made for a complex process to manage, even by Western standards. Additionally, the fact that elections are actually taking place is a step in the right direction.
With the elections lacking legitimacy in the eyes of Western governments and some international election monitors, there is no guarantee that the upcoming referendum on the independence of Sudan’s oil-rich South in early 2011 will not be shadowed by the same problems of pervasive fraud and full-scale vote-swindling, both by the NCP and the SPLM, the latter also accused of falling short of meeting international standards in the election process. Bashir’s win of the presidency and the NCP’s capture of the majority of seats in parliament will undoubtedly fan the flames of unrest, already manifesting itself through the anger expressed by the opposition, calling into question the authenticity of the results.

So what will the future hold? Bashir’s victory will legitimize his corrupt regime and undermine the ICC’s indictment. Furthermore, the unlikely prevalence of democratic change under the continued leadership of the NCP is sure to leave the neglected and marginalized masses of Sudan’s peripheral population no other choice than to resort to arms in order to make their voices heard. The SPLM’s sweep of the south is also worrisome, with the party being accused of extensive voter intimidation and election fraud, bringing into question its ability to democratically govern the potentially independent South Sudan.

In other words, even though the elections were conducted relatively free of violence, there is no guarantee that the results will not cause a powerful stir, with clashes already occurring along the country’s north-south border and opposition parties calling for non-violent protests. By silencing the voiceless, disenfranchising the neglected, and ignoring the disparate, there will be no more business as usual in Khartoum. The seeds of the country’s disintegration have now been sown and thoroughly watered by the ruling elite’s denial of basic democratic rights to its own citizenry.



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Mr. Hany Besada is senior researcher and program leader, Health and Social Governance at the Centre for Int’l Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada. Mr. Besada’s research interests include African economic and political development, Middle East studies, int’l diplomacy, and conflict resolution. He holds an MA and a BA in Int’l Relations from Alliant Int’l University in San Diego, US.

 

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