Darfur refugees say to boycott Sudan elections
By Andrew Heavens
ABU SHOUK CAMP, Sudan (Reuters) - Nureldin Khalil sits back in the tea shack in Darfur's Abu Shouk refugee camp and shrugs. "Why should I vote? ... No one is speaking the truth in these elections. Everything is a lie."
There are nods and grunts of approval from friends around him, a small sample of what camp residents say are thousands of displaced Darfuris who are boycotting looming elections despite official reports of long queues at voter registration centres.
Sudan is preparing for what could be its first fully multiparty presidential and legislative elections in almost a quarter of a century, now just two months away in April.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has promised the ballot will cover the whole country, including Darfur, in a bid, analysts say, to legitimise his rule in the face of war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court.
Opposition groups have said the poll is bound to be a farce in Darfur, seven years into a conflict where sporadic fighting continues to drive families from their homes and state security keeps a tight grip on the main population centres.
Residents of heavily politicised Abu Shouk, many of whom say they fled attacks by government militias as far back as 2003, say most people in the camp have decided to duck out of the process altogether by refusing to register as voters.
"The people who attacked us in our villages are the same people who came to register us for the elections," said tribal leader Umda Adam Khatar, sitting in his house roofed with USAID sacking.
"I am going to stay in my house. No one will count my name."
Umda Hassan Abdullah, one of the most senior elders in the sprawling settlement on the outskirts of the capital of North Darfur El Fasher, estimates fewer that 4,000 of the camp's 50,000 residents have signed up for the poll.
"The people here don't like the elections. They haven't found anyone they want to support."
OPPOSITION TO VOTE SEEN BEYOND ABU SHOUK
Most Abu Shouk residents remain at least publicly loyal to the founder of Darfur's rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the Paris-based Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, whose commanders have threatened to treat election officials as enemy soldiers.
Sudanese opposition parties say it is not only Nur's supporters in Abu Shouk who are refusing to register.
"We had a delegation from all the armed movements from all three regions (North, South and West Darfur). They say they have told all their people not to register," said Farouk Abu Issa, spokesman for the Juba Alliance, a loose coalition of parties planning to field joint candidates against Bashir's dominant National Congress Party (NCP).
According to El Fasher's National Elections Commission office 691,841 people, including 54,139 refugees, have registered to vote across all of North Darfur, in total more than 65 percent of the estimated electorate.
Commission head Ibrahim Musa Ahmed acknowledged the turnout in Abu Shouk and some other camps was low. "I think some IDPs are acting according to what their local leaders say ... But we gave them the chance. We were sitting in registration centres until 8.30pm on the last day."
Abu Shouk's residents are suspicious of the official figures. "It is all lies. And the ones who registered to vote are the ones the government paid to vote," says one teacher, who declined to give his name. Sudan's government has regularly denied accusations of electoral fraud.
Other residents insist they are boycotting the elections for their own reasons, not simply to obey SLA orders.
"We cannot vote because you have to be free to vote," said one man. "Our priority is getting peace. Then we can think about elections," said another. "How can I register here when my home is in Tawila," said a third.
A few admitted taking the lead from others. "We didn't register because the sheiks didn't tell us to register," said Jamila, a mother of seven making mud bricks in the outskirts of the camp.
Only one young man sheltering from the sun in the Abu Shouk tea tent was prepared to admit he was taking part in the vote.
"I registered because this is the system in my country. I will vote for Bashir, because it is better to have someone you know than someone you don't," said the man, who did not give his name, speaking in Arabic.
"Don't translate this as it will upset him," said Nureldin Khalil, speaking in English. "But the government has been paying people to register and I am afraid this has happened to my friend."