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SUDAN: Voting in troubled times
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Apr 9, 2010 - 6:19:01 AM

SUDAN: Voting in troubled times


Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Sudanese president Omar al Bashir waves to crowds in the southern capital Juba during an election rally
NAIROBI, 8 April 2010 (IRIN) - Millions of Sudanese are preparing to vote in presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections this weekend, but the belated polls come at a time when Sudan continues to grapple with significant humanitarian challenges.

"The legal environment for free and fair elections does not exist," Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group states in a briefing paper on Darfur. "The international community should acknowledge that whoever wins will lack legitimacy."

Nearly 2.7 million people are displaced in Darfur and a large number of Darfur refugees are in Chad, while the conflict continues to directly affect two million more, according to a report by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and the Center for Peace and Development Studies of the University of Juba. 

Across the country, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that some 4.3 million people will require food assistance at some point this year.

In the South, according to the UN, at least 450 civilians have been killed and 40,000 displaced in inter-communal violence since the beginning of the year, bringing the total number of newly displaced people in that region to 440,000.

Election fact box
Sudan's first multi-party polls in 24 years
The elections are being held in accordance with the 2005 CPA that ended years of conflict between the north and south
Voters will elect the president, national assembly, president of GOSS, the Southern Sudan legislative assembly, governors and assemblies for 25 states
The three-day voting starts on 11 April, and every Sudanese citizen aged 18 or over is eligible
At least 16 million people registered
Twelve candidates initially registered for president, 2,317 for 270 constituency seats, 1,026 for women’s seats and 4,471 for state legislative assemblies
The Northern political landscape is dominated by the National Congress Party of President Omar el-Bashir, and the Southern by the SPLM, led by President Salva Kiir Mayardit
 
The number of severely food-insecure people, according to a joint assessment by the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), WFP and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will increase from approximately one million in 2009 to 1.5 million in 2010. An additional 1.8 million people will be moderately food insecure at some point.

There is also concern that with a high illiteracy rate of 40 percent among the population, most of whom have never voted, the elections face serious challenges, especially in the South, where people will take part in 12 different ballots.

At the same time, human rights groups say the government “continues to oppress opposition” and “stifle the free flow of information”. Sudan ranks 148th of 175 countries and territories on the 2009 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, and 170th out of 195 on Freedom House’s 2008 Global Press Freedom Index. 

Crunch-time

This week, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Umma party announced they would boycott the elections in some Northern states. The polls have also increasingly been overshadowed by talk of the 2011 referendum on Southern autonomy.

Despite these body-blows, the polls are important for Sudan, say observers. "The moment has arrived for Sudan, Africa’s biggest country in landscape, diversity and complexity," noted Hala Alkarib, director of the Horn of Africa Women Coalition.

Various international organizations and donors have provided substantial input into the process. “This is probably the most crucial period in Sudan’s history since its independence in 1956,” UN envoy Haile Menkerios told a news conference in Khartoum on 28 March.

"The coming elections have two inseparable functions – first, they are an important and essential benchmark in the implementation of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]; and second, they are intended to usher in a democratic process in Sudan."



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