Sudanese and American organizations alike are expressing frustration at the Obama administration’s reactions to most Sudanese opposition parties’ move to partially withdraw from elections next week, leaving the presidential seat essentially unchallenged. Most notably, the southern ruling party, or SPLM, decided last week to withdraw from the presidential race and are boycotting elections in Darfur at all levels. Just yesterday, another main opposition party, the Umma Party, also announced its boycott of local and parliamentary elections.
The withdrawal came after weeks of complaints by opposition groups of electoral irregularities and restrictions on freedoms, all of which was well-documented by U.S. election observers and human rights organizations who warned that elections in Sudan were unlikely to be free and fair. The decision to withdraw has left elections, set to begin on Sunday, even less inclusive and makes President Omer al-Bashir’s victory certain.
The much anticipated statement from the U.S. over the weekend neither addressed concerns over the lack of political freedoms nor the implications of having elections without competition. Instead, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration pressed parties to go forward with the elections and said recently:
"They (electoral commission members) have given me confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible. These people have gone to great lengths to ensure that the people of Sudan will have access to polling places and that the procedures and processes will ensure transparency.”
In a statement released to State Department reporters on Monday, the Save Darfur Coalition expressed deep concern over Gration’s response:
“The proper role for the United States to play is as a neutral arbiter, respecting the opinions of all stakeholders in the election and not pushing it forward at any cost, against the will of many major political parties. The NCP has had five years to put into place the mechanisms for a free and fair election, yet has refused to do so. General Gration’s statements dishearten the many Sudanese who yearn for true democracy in Sudan and serve only to embolden the dictatorial National Congress Party.”
The U.S.’s neutrality was also questioned by Sudan Democracy First Group, a Sudanese civil society group that released a statement on Monday saying:
“The policy of the US and its allies towards Sudan is rapidly losing its neutrality and credibility in the eyes of the people. Despite the warnings from all domestic parties and independent international experts from the Carter Centre to the United Nations over the last weeks about the torture, the rigging and the fundamental unfairness of the election process, the Special Envoy Mr Gration only arrived for a whirlwind of crisis meetings earlier this week when it seemed like the farce would not go ahead after all as planned. (…)The Sudanese people have said NO to these elections at this time. Why is the US saying YES?”
Most recently, State Department officials have indicated that the administration would support an election delay of up to one month in order to, according to VOA, ensure that elections are free and fair. Putting out such an impossible goal at this late point in the game certainly does more to show the administration’s desire to write off elections in Sudan than any real will for polls to be truly free and fair.