A foregone conclusion
Ali Belail asks whether Sudan's elections mark a step forward and interviews Mansour Khaled, current foreign minister and presidential advisor
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Election observers watch a ballot box at a Zam Zam refugee camp polling station in Darfur after voting was extended by two days
"It is not fair to disqualify the elections here on the basis of European standards." This is how Paul Hadler, an independent Norwegian election monitor summed up his opinion on the statements coming out of the European Union and the Carter Foundation. Their view was that the elections in Sudan did not meet international standards. Yet even the White House, despite saying that the elections were plagued by "serious irregularities" and more should have been done to prevent them, was keen to point out that it was "an essential step in a process laid out by Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement".
Last week many opposition parties were critical of the lukewarm criticism of the elections by former US president Carter, especially his assertion that the elections will be recognised by most of the international community. There is a feeling amongst many in the opposition that the US is short- changing Sudan in favour of ensuring that next year's referendum in the south takes place on time.
Mansour Khaled, member of the SPLM political bureau and former advisor to the Sudanese Presidency, feels that things have changed since United States Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration became involved. Gration "concluded that the south shall go and that his role should be to smooth the road for that to happen. If that means the NCP (National Congress Party) [staying in power] then so be it."
For any observer of the Sudanese political scene, the last two weeks must have been the most dizzying and confusing in a long time. The whole country was experiencing the most important political event in a quarter of a century and every entity, local or foreign, had and still has a vested interest in what transpires. The elections were monitored by hundreds of observers from every continent with varying degrees of experience and, some suggest, commitment to the monitoring process. "In contrast to local monitors some of whom spent the night at polling stations to ensure that no boxes were removed or stuffed overnight, some foreign monitors would tour different stations on the same day and spend very little time at each station," says Abdel-Rahman Yehia, director of Sudanese Development Initiative, a local NGO familiar with the local election monitoring organisations.
Yet many independent observers have been extremely impressed by how the National Election Commission (NEC) handled the massive logistical task of organising and overseeing the whole process. "It was smooth, transparent and speedy," says Selim Diab of the Arab European Committee on Election Monitoring. Many were under the impression that there were issues of safety and coercion that would impact turnout and the safety of the monitors themselves. "We spread our forces in 17 states, women were heading to polling stations... even when there were problems with ballots and it was delayed, people came back after days to vote. This does not happen in any Arab country," adds Diab.
But despite these endorsements that stress that even after 24 years since the last election, the process was smooth, there are those who point out that the last elections in 1986 were held after a similar period from the previous elections (1964) and they were also smooth and without incident. "It is to the credit of the nature of the Sudanese people rather than the NEC that these elections were peaceful," commented Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, a former interior minister and leader of the Reform and Renewal faction of the opposition Umma party.
It would be reckless to paint the whole polling period with one brush. Likewise, it is naïve to judge the integrity of the elections on the polling period alone. Many civil society advocates have stressed that the problems began as far back as the population census mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which they accuse the government of manipulating in its favour and particularly to the disadvantage of the south. They also cite the voter registration period as heavily flawed.
By now the complete results should have been announced, but the NEC has announced another delay citing the massive nature of the process. But the news and election coverage programming on Sudan TV issues results daily and there is no surprise there. For many the results of the election are not -- and were never -- in any doubt; a landslide for the ruling NCP on all levels. Yet even the delay of the announcement of the result is being seen as a tactic by the government. "They are announcing the results piecemeal so people get used to the idea for fear of a backlash," comments Al-Mahdi.
No doubt that these elections are a momentous event in the history of Sudan. Yet there is so much else at stake and so many foreign and local stakeholders that the elections seem almost a small detail when one considers the big picture. In any case and as Hadler the independent election monitor told Al-Ahram Weekly, "this is only a first step." The question is: in which direction?