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The Obama Administration’s Mixed Messages on Sudan’s Elections Continue

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The Obama Administration’s Mixed Messages on Sudan’s Elections Continue

Posted by Amanda Hsiao on April 9, 2010

As elections in Sudan near, U.S. officials have come under a barrage of questions from reporters aimed at figuring out what exactly the Obama administration’s position on the elections is.

On Thursday, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice articulated the many reasons why elections on Sunday will not be free and fair—breaking what has largely been silence from both the administration and the U.N. on these abuses. After being briefed by the U.N. peacekeeping chief on the electoral situation on the ground, Rice said to the press:

There have been some significant impediments on the ground, restrictions on civil liberties, harassment of the media, reduction in the number of polling places, insecurity, an inability, of many of the people, particularly in Darfur, to be able to register and participate. 

And the conclusion Rice drew, given the large number of flaws and irregularities documented before elections have even begun? A measured ‘we-will-see’ approach that was rightly hedged by what the facts clearly show: we are unlikely to see free and fair elections.

Unfortunately, the trends on the ground are very disturbing, and we will and we are judging these elections on the basis of whether they provide an opportunity for the people of Sudan to fully and adequately express their political will, and whether they meet international standards and regrettably, the trends in this regard are not encouraging.

Contrast this conclusion to the daily press briefing exchange that took place on Wednesday, between State Department official P.J. Crowley and a reporter. This came after Crowley’s comment that, though elections will be difficult and imperfect, the exercise is still critical to the CPA. Take a look:

QUESTION: Given all these caveats that you’ve just listed and that you still say we have to view this election as an important step in the process, it sounds as though the U.S. is going to be ready to sign off on the results no matter how flawed the actual process in this election is. And if that’s the case, why does the U.S. think that the results of a flawed election can produce an adequate structure to hold the referendum when things —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Andy, what is the alternative?

Crowley’s outright confirmation that the Obama administration is indeed ready to rubber stamp flawed elections is not only startling for its honesty, but for its irresponsibility. The alternative would have been for the U.S. to put in place the right pressures to push parties to set up an open and free environment for elections. Because the administration never established what its bottom line standard for how elections should be held, we are less than two days away from witnessing elections that will reelect a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The administration’s continued use of the CPA as an excuse for flawed elections is also dishonest and misleading. By continuing to insist that elections have to take place because the CPA says so, the administration conveniently forgets that many other provisions have fallen to the way side, including the still un-demarcated North-South border and the oil-rich territory of Abyei—issues that have tremendous potential to spark violence.

Given that elections start on Sunday, and that neither the U.S. nor the NCP are ready to postpone them, there is no time left to establish the necessary institutions and environment that will truly allow the Sudanese people to express their will. But, it’s certainly not too late for the U.S. to call the elections for what they are, after the fact.