Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan’s ‘irrelevant’ elections

Elections in Sudan are all but a foregone conclusion, though opposition to Omar Al-Bashir both civil and military continues to mount, writes Haytham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Through bullets and ballots, the regime of President Omar Al-Bashir manages to divide Sudan, while it claims to be protecting it from internal and external conspiracies.

The three-day presidential, parliamentary and local elections held last week were met with international scepticism and a domestic boycott, and cannot possibly lead but to one result: keeping Sudan in limbo.

Divisions in Sudan are such that when 13 million people went to the polling stations Monday, parties and activists ran two different campaigns, one to boycott it and the other to depose Al-Bashir.

Seeking to shore up his image at home and abroad, Al-Bashir offered to take part in the Saudi-led war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

But critics say that Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, is determined to stay in power no matter what.

As the elections got underway, armed groups in several states upped their anti-government activities, further undermining claims by Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) that it is the only party capable of keeping Sudan together. The final results of the elections are due 27 April.

In Sudan’s parliamentary elections, voters will be electing 450 members for the central parliament, with one fourth of the seats allocated to women. In the local elections, each of Sudan’s 15 states will choose 50 members for its local legislature, with 13 seats reserved for women.

Some 75,000 policemen were given the job of guarding nearly 11,000 polling centres across the country.

But voters can no longer elect the governors of various states. A recent constitutional amendment allowed the president to name the governors, instead of having them elected by public ballot. The move was in reaction to the NCP electoral losses in the two states of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan five years ago.

Several Sudanese civil society groups offered to monitor the elections, as well as delegations from the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also promised to send observers.

The EU and the Carter Centre, both having monitored the elections in 2010, stayed away. The EU issued a statement expressing doubt that elections will be “credible”.

Opposition writer Alaa Abu Madyan questioned the EU intentions: “This is part of the West’s hypocrisy and deception. When they needed Al-Bashir to ratify the secession of the south, they said that elections were acceptable. But now the elections are of no particular use,” Abu Madyan said.

Meanwhile, Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, lamented the international community’s inaction on Al-Bashir, who is wanted for trial in connection with war crimes in Darfur. The ICC served an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in March 2009.

Abu Madyan noted that most observers monitoring the elections are from civil society groups that are “close to the government” of Al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1989.

These are Sudan’s first elections since the south seceded on 9 July 2011. The secession furthered tensions and depressed living conditions across the borders, due to the disruption of the oil industry.

South Sudan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Khartoum of aiding and abetting rebel groups led by Riek Machar, the former vice president.

Walid Sayyed, professor of political science in the International University of Africa in Khartoum, notes that none of the 44 parties taking part in the elections has a large following. The Ummah Party of Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi and the Sudanese Communist Party are both staying away.

As for Al-Bashir, challenged by 14 candidates who are virtually unknown, there is no question of his not winning. The challenge to his rule doesn’t come from the ballot boxes, but from the armed groups opposing his administration in several states, as well as the opposition campaign known as Irhal, which means “leave” in Arabic.

The campaign is using the same slogan protestors used to demand the overthrow long servicing presidents in other Arab countries during the 2011 uprisings.

Umman Party member Abdel Rahman Al-Ghali believes that the current presidential elections are irrelevant. “When you hold elections without [well-known] figures such as Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi or even Yasser Arman taking part, this is not a major league event anymore, but some teenagers playing in a backstreet,” Al-Ghali said.

Due to security concerns, elections weren’t organised in selected parts of the country. Mokhtar Al-Asem, head of Sudan’s elections committee, pointed out that seven districts, six in South Kordofan and one in central Darfur, would be left out.

Before the elections, Al-Bashir’s government clamped down on its opponents, arresting activists known to be part of the Irhal and boycott campaigns. Sudanese authorities also confiscated editions of 15 newspapers over last two months, according to the website of Amnesty International.

Sudan’s Journalists’ Association for Human Rights (JAHR) said that dozens of journalists were called in for questioning in the past three months.

Madihah Abdallah, chief editor of the newspaper Al-Maydan, mouthpiece of the Sudanese Communist Party, was among those arrested. She is facing charges of undermining the constitution and using force to resist authorities. If convicted, she could face the death sentence.

Fighting has meanwhile intensified in Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan in recent months, with regional commanders, including those of the Revolutionary Front, vowing to press on with their military campaign against the government.

The Nuba Reports website, which monitors the conflict in the Nuba Mountains, said that recent aerial bombardment by government planes killed more than 1,000 in the past four months.

Short of friends at home, Al-Bashir is trying to improve his standing abroad, offering to help with the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, forging strong ties with Iran, while staying friends with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists in the region.

According to Al-Shafie Khedr, a Sudanese leftist, “[Al-Bashir] is looking for someone to save him from his economic debacle after the secession of the south, which was the main producer of oil in Sudan. After the September 2013 uprising in Sudan, and with escalation of economic difficulties and military challenges at home, the regime is looking for friends anywhere.”

According to opposition websites, the regime dismissed 23 officers recently over alleged ties with Nafie Ali Nafie, a former presidential aide. The dismissal of officers may be a gesture of reconciliation towards Egypt and the Gulf States.

Fayez Al-Salik, a Sudanese opposition writer, notes that Al-Bashir has dismissed several Islamist aides, including former vice president Ali Osman Taha and Nafie.

“The regime is hoping that Qatar would resume its mediation in Darfur, or that it may receive some assistance that it needs to shore up its position,” Al-Salik said.

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