SUDAN: Elections


It is no secret that the presidential seat is reserved for no one else than the current president of Sudan Omar Hasan al-Bashir. Apparently, an agreement was reached between the Bashir’s National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (the strongest party of the South), that the seat of the president should go to a familiar face, and no one is more familiar in Sudan than al-Bashir.

ICC’s indictment against al-Bashir for orchestrating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur does not stand in the way of his election. In fact, charges of mass murder, torture and rape, did not delegitimize his political persona, they only made him stronger. Without a doubt, a leader that can mock the most serious indictment possible under international humanitarian law and get away with it, has guaranteed himself a place above the law. The illogical starts to make sense. Why would Sudanese vote for a wanted war criminal? Actually, they do not see him as such. They will cast their votes for the untouchable, the al-Bashir that proved to be above the law of the international community.

The leaders of South Sudan are supporting al-Bashir in exchange for a tolerant approach to Southern independence in 2011. However, would al-Bashir really let go of the goose that lays the golden eggs? Southern oil fields are the source of Sudan’s power; without them, the country looses the most of its attraction for foreign investment. Therefore, can the Southern Sudanese trust in al-Bashir?

As may be easily foreseen, after the elections the North may continue supporting the violent ethnic clashes in the South. Moreover, I am afraid a conflict will escalate just before the referendum, giving the North the opportunity to postpone the referendum for an indefinite time. No referendum, no independence for South Sudan.

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Sudanese stand in front of a crucial task. A whole generation grew up since the last multi-party elections were held in 1986. Whether those were conceived in a democratic spirit differs on the geographical location: “we  heard  one  educated Sudanese, a Northerner, enthuse about  the multi-party election of 1986, describing it as a genuine moment  of democratic participation  for  all  Sudanese;  and  an  equally  educated Sudanese,  a  Southerner,  say,  ‘Was  there  an  election  in  1986?  Yes,  yes,  there  was  an election! But it was run by the army! It was not an election. It was run by the army(Rift Valley Institute, the Sudan Election History Project)

In less than 90 days Sudanese are about to vote on the most extensive elections in Sudan’s history. They will cast multiple ballots voting for six different posts:

  1. President of the Republic
  2. President of the Government of Southern Sudan
  3. Governors of the States
  4. Members of the National Assembly
  5. Members of the Southern Sudan Assembly
  6. Members of states’ assemblies.

In Sudan, more than just the security situation is disturbing. How is a nation, with half of its adult population not being able to read and write, going to cross the candidate of their choice?  With non-existing basic infrastructure, how will voters to commute to polling stations? By the way, who has the right to vote in Sudan? Reports of alleged fraud of the voters’ registration process leave no hope that elections will build a ‘national’ momentum among people living on the territory known as Sudan.

With the on-going conflicts between North and South, conflict in Darfur and the violence in the East of Sudan, the country is a ticking bomb. Ironically, on the January 9, 2010 the internationally community celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Until the numbers of dead, tortured, fled, raped do not appear in the Western media on the scale it’s being reported on the catastrophe in Haiti, the Peace Agreement has apperantly not been violated.

On the mentioned anniversary, the EU issued a Declaration with the usual diplomatic language about the importance of the full implementation of the peace agreement. Of course, emphasis was given to the elections that “should mark the beginning of a new era of democratic transformation in the Sudan“. However, the stunning part comes, when EU is stating that they are considering a deployment of an EU Electoral Observation Mission. Only considering? Or rather, still considering? The elections are to take place in three months from now. If the EU is still in the phase of thinking about sending experts to observe what should be free and fair elections, we can be sure that the potential observer mission will be insufficient in expert-power and will not sufficiently cover Sudan’s territory. Let us not forget, Sudan is the biggest country on the continent, seven times the size of Germany.

A friend o mine, which used to work in Ljubljana as a diplomat, dropped me a line yesterday evening saying that the Exploratory Mission has just returned from Sudan. Their report will play a crucial role, whether the EU will be present as a human rights (political rights are human rights) observer when people of Sudan go to cast their votes. Or will the EU turn its head away? What we do not see does not violate the peace agreement. The same logic will be applied to the observation of the elections – if the EU does not send its observers, they cannot see elections that are not taking place in a peaceful environment and do not produce legitimate outcomes.

Does anyone have more information about the report of the EU Exploratory Mission to Sudan?

This year will be decisive for the future of Sudan. Africa’s largest country is only a few months away from the groundbreaking elections that will be followed by a referendum for independence of South Sudan in 2011. A new country is on the political horizon. The million-dollar question is will elections really happen? And if they do, will the Islamic North indeed let the Christian-animist South decide about its own future?

The civil war between the North and the South ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. To understand the conflict and the power of the upcoming elections in Sudan, a brief excursion into the country’s history is enough. The tension between the two entities (North & South) started with the colonization. The British wanted to create a cultural wall in what is today South Sudan to stop the spread of arabization in Africa. The official language of the South became English and Christianity was introduced as a superior religion. Missionaries over-floated the region and institutionalized education. The North responded to colonial agenda by building its own cultural fortress. The secular curriculum in schools was replaced by the teachings of Koran. After the independance in 1956 the predominantly Arab government started introducing the politics of arabization and islamization of the South leading to a conflict that turned into a 21-years lasting civil war (1983-2005).  Therefore, the upcoming elections are not just a democratic momentum, but also a groundbreaking event to show whether there is place for two multi-ethnical entities in Sudan. But will elections actually take place?

In the beginning of January, New York Times printed what Doctors without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and other international non-governmental actors were trying to make apparent for moths. Violence in South Sudan, manifesting itself in ethnical clashes, is an obvious violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005. The state of the matter is that international community does not want to witness a collapse of an agreement that took years to negotiate (2002-2005) and ended one of the longest civil wars in African history. But apparently, more energy was spent for negotiating the deal then for implementing its provisions. For example, one of the first steps of building peace is Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of former combatants. This step is to assure that the weapons are laid aside and that combatants are ready to return to their civil life. In Sudan, this step happened rather late or in fact, too late. According to UNMIS (UN Mission in Sudan) “after a period of negotiations and technical preparations“, the DDR process started only in 2009 – four years after the peace accords were signed and one year before the scheduled elections.

The 2005 peace agreement gave Sudanese people the hope that they might live in peace. However, with 2,500 killed in South Sudan last year and 350,000 that fled their homes (Joint NGO Briefing, Jan 2010), that hope is now gone. In an environment that does not guarantee ‘freedom of fear’, it is impossible for fair and free elections to take place. If the peacebuilders neglect the worrying security situation and support the elections, they are in fact restoring the conditions that lead to Sudan’s civil war in the first place.