talk of the town for Sudanese is the position of Washington’s envoy Scott Gration after he met the National
Elections Commission, the body accused of irregularities and bias towards the ruling National Congress Party.
“They have given me a lot of information that gives me confidence that the elections will start on time and that they will be as free and fair as possible,” Gration told reporters.
“This has been a difficult challenge but I believe they (the NEC) have stepped up and met the challenge,” he added.
Gration refused to answer a question on his opinion of the accusations of fraud and bias against the NEC, presiding over the polls to begin next week.
These include the NEC imposing restrictions on political party meetings, pre-recording and censoring political party broadcasts, intervening in the U.N. tender process to allow the government printing press to print the presidential and gubernatorial ballots and a later revelation they allowed the same press to print the voter registration books and slips.
The last contract was paid for with international donor money. Washington is the main bilateral donor to the presidential, legislative and gubernatorial polls, offering some $95 million.
The NEC has not published its finances so no one knows how much the elections will cost. But international sources estimate between $300 to $400 million.
Gration arrived after the shock decision by the main south Sudan party to withdraw its presidential candidate last week, citing massive fraud and sparking a wave of withdrawals which threatened the credibility of the polls.
Gration met with opposition leaders to try to “save the elections” and asked them to participate. Since then some key opposition leader have wavered on their boycott threats.
They want a delay to deal with the problems, but Gration opposes this, ironically backing the position of the ruling NCP led by President Omar al-Bashir, accused by Washington of genocide in the western Darfur region.
Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, is likely assured of victory with his main ex-rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) contender out of the picture.
But Washington needs the rocky partnership between the SPLM and the NCP who joined in government after a 2005 north-south peace deal to continue to ensure a key southern referendum on secession goes ahead in January 2011.
Some agree that a successful referendum will go a long way to ensuring Africa’s longest civil war does not reignite. But opposition Umma party spokeswoman Mariam al-Mahdi warns Bashir “will bring only the bloodiest referendum.”
Opposition leader Mubarak al-Fadil blasted Gration, already in a awkard position because of growing impatience at home with his “carrot” rather than “stick” approach to the Sudanese government.
“Mr. Gration is so engrossed in ceding to the will of the NCP and ensuring the convention of the elections in April that he has shown clear disregard for their credibility.”
The opposition talks of double standards – with Washington insisting on free and fair polls in Iran, but not Sudan.
“We call on the
United States of America to come true with its commitment to democracy,” al-Fadil added.
Their argument for boycotting is clear to some: why give credibility to Bashir’s reelection which they say he has ensured through rigging the vote?
But others say the road to democracy is long and you must make a start – participate in the first multi-party polls in 24 years to document the abuses and learn to fight them in time for the next elections.
What is clear is that Bashir is relishing the moment:
“They (the opposition) resorted to their American masters to get the postponement and when they got something different they said that the Americans are also (members of the) NCP,” Bashir told a rally on Friday.
I doubt President Barack Obama would be happy about that.