Saturday, April 10, 2010

Louisa Seferis
Demagogues and Dictators Sudan Analyst

Beginning Sunday April 11, Sudan will hold historic national elections – the first in 24 years. As expected, the buildup to the elections has been fraught with inconsistency, opacity and contention. President Omar al-Bashir’s main political opponents – except for one party – have withdrawn at all levels because of fraud. Only minor opposition parties remain in the presidential, parliamentary, and state polls in the northern areas. (South Sudan will have its own regional voting structure, making these polls extremely complicated.) What’s worse, EU election monitors in Darfur left due to insecurity, proclaiming they had never been treated so badly. Indeed, Bashir doesn’t seem to want to make friends: the BBC quoted him as saying that if the observers intervened in Sudan's affairs, "we will cut off their fingers and crush them under our shoes."

While discouraging, it’s not clear if the EU monitors’ departure from Darfur will have an impact. Most of Darfur’s nearly 2.7 million internally displaced people were not registered due to insecurity or remoteness; even if they were, it is unclear if they would vote at all. The SPLM candidate, Yassir Arman, announced on Wednesday that he was pulling out of the election. He cited a “lack of preparedness” in Darfur as one of the reasons for his withdrawal, explaining in an interview with the BBC "the people of Darfur in the internally displaced people's camps asked the SPLM not to be involved in the election.” Darfur’s IDPs know their votes will not be counted properly, regardless of an international monitoring presence.

This is actually old news. As Reuters reported Friday, “Sudanese activists say the irregularities began with a flawed 2008 census, demarcating electoral constituencies and fraudulent voter registration.” A lovely example of this is when more than 1,900 security force members were registered to vote at a tiny police post in Khartoum where only five policemen were officially stationed. Sudanese civil society organizations continue to report outrageous situations like this one, but they fall on national and international deaf ears.

Simply put, Bashir refuses to delay the elections so he can check them off his list and use the event as political leverage later. It is difficult to accuse a sitting head of state of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court if he wins “democratic” elections, no matter how fraudulent.

And these elections will go through. The polls are already underway, and although the U.S. and others (EU, UN) have expressed dismay at Bashir’s unwillingness to postpone the elections, the stakes are not high enough for them to interfere – if Afghanistan’s elections took place, so will these. The world is more interested in the referendum for South Sudan’s independence than anything else, and Bashir is dangling this in front of the international community. The BBC reports...
...that he has threatened to cancel the vote on the referendum if the SPLM withdrew from the presidential race. It’s not the actual act of withdrawal that is problematic to Bashir, it is the delegitimizing of elections that his party wants to avoid. Any delay or reevaluation of the census and registration will reveal enormous inconsistencies that, if exposed and corrected, would cost the National Congress Party its political monopoly. If polls close on April 13 and a clear winner is announced on the 18th, however contentious, Bashir just might keep his promise about the South Sudan referendum. This is what the international community is hoping for.

In the midst of all the bleak reports emerging from Sudan’s election process, in particular regarding Darfur, the international community should not lose sight of two beacons of hope – the latest rounds of ceasefire agreements between Darfur’s major rebel groups and Bashir’s government. In March 2010, the Government of Sudan signed two ceasefire agreements with Darfur’s largest rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, and with the Liberation and Justice Movement, a newly formed umbrella group of 10 movements. The only major group still holding out is a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdul Wahid.

While these two agreements are largely associated with political posturing, they are a step in the right direction. If the international community wants to ensure that the ceasefire arrangements evolve into lasting peace, they have to ascertain if the internally displaced people are onboard. The international community’s involvement in Sudan’s elections has been problematic because of its inadequate use of high-level discussions to broach difficult discussions about voter registration at the most local levels.

If the U.S., EU, and UN want to see freer and fairer elections in Sudan, they need to do more than last-minute public diplomacy. Scott Gration stated that he believed if the main opposition withdrew from the legislative elections, “it was not clear whether they would still be held” (BBC). I think he received his answer when polls opened throughout Sudan.

Louisa Seferis is a Masters candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on conflict resolution and human security. She has worked in Subsaharan Africa for 4 years specializing in internal displacement, reconciliation, and post-conflict reintegration. 


Trevor K. said...

Great post Louisa! Your analysis is helpful to understanding the varying statements coming from the Obama Administration.

feathers said...

I have to say, Louisa, after reading your post, listening to the NPR coverage of the elections has been disappointing. There seems to be a general whitewashing of the fact that most of the opposition candidates have dropped out. This is definitely a "checklist" kind of election.

Louisa said...

Update on the elections situation:

"The National Elections Commission (NEC) dismissed it as a fake and is not even investigating it."

Not surprising.

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