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Sudan’s Elections: Don’t Look Away Yet

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Sudan’s Elections: Don’t Look Away Yet

Posted by Maggie Fick on April 26, 2010

Sudan’s Elections: Don’t Look Away Yet

UPDATE: The official results for the southern Sudan state-level races have now been made public. In Juba, the capital of Central Equatoria state, the mood was tense after incumbent Governor Clement Wani was declared the victor over independent canddiate Alfred Ladu Gore. The Government of Southern Sudan and the United Nations ordered a curfew yesterday evening, and it remains to be seen how the citizens of Juba will react to this news, which is sure not to sit well with many.

JUBA, Southern Sudan—If you read the recent Economist article that cavalierly proclaimed Sudan’s elections to be “horrid” in the North and “more or less fair” in the South, please think again. If you’re under the (correct) impression that Sudan’s five-day polling period passed generally peacefully, resist the urge to therefore conclude that the country is out of the woods until its next major political event next year.

The elections are not over yet, because the official results have not been announced in some races (in Central Equatoria state, where I live, for one), and if anything, the process is getting messier by the day. Since the Economist article was published, the following events have transpired in South Sudan:

•    Two people were killed on Friday April 23 in Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state near the North-South border, in a clash between security forces and supporters of a gubernatorial candidate following the announcement that the incumbent governor had won. A local radio journalist was reportedly arrested and beaten by security forces while covering the unfolding events in Bentiu.

•    According to the UN, polling station staff rioted in the Northern Bahr al Ghazal state capital of Aweil on April 21, with an estimated 200 protestors gathering outside the State High Elections Committee office to demand their salaries for their work during the elections. Local elections staff also gathered in Juba at the State High Committee office after staff at three polling stations in Juba had gone on strike to demand their pay.

•    Ballots boxes being stored in a primary school were reportedly burned last week in the village of Yangiri in Western Equatoria state.

•    Senior elections officials in Western Equatoria state received anonymous death threats late last week; these officials claim they are being intimidated into manipulating elections results in incumbent governor and SPLM candidate Jemma Nunu Kumba’s favor. On Saturday, two election officials were reportedly kidnapped and badly beaten; local news sources reported allegations that the state government has ordered the withholding of elections results and the detainment of elections officials in the state.

•    Also on Saturday, April 24, the Political Parties Council of Southern Sudan—a body comprised of all of the political parties in the South and formed with the assistance of the African Union Panel on Sudan to resolve elections-related disputes—accused the SPLM of committing “serious and grievous” violations during the polling period.

Initial statements and reports on the elections by the Obama administration and other governments, and by the Carter Center and a host of other observer missions, have helped foster the impression that the elections “box” has officially been “ticked.” The logic goes that the elections are over and it’s time to press ahead into the “pre-referendum period,” because less than nine months remain before the southern Sudanese will cast their all-important vote for the future of their country. True enough; serious negotiations over a number of contentious issues must take place in the coming months between the two ruling parties to Sudan, who are also the signatories to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA.

But just because there are many CPA-related issues to resolve before the southern referendum does not mean that the serious transgressions currently occurring in Sudan should be ignored. The overriding theme in the incidents detailed above is clear: the South’s ruling SPLM party and its security forces are responsible for the majority of the reported cases of political repression, intimidation, and arbitrary uses of force against civilians and elections officials in the South. In many of the instances where “plain clothes security forces” or “unauthorized security personnel” have reportedly committed violations, it is clear that the reason these individuals have not been described as SPLM-affiliated armed forces or political agents is because southerners are afraid of the consequences of speaking out against the ruling party in the South. The SPLM’s conduct during the electoral process should be subject to local and international scrutiny as the party positions itself to lead what will likely be Africa’s newest state.

*Hat-tip to Reuters’ Juba-based correspondent Skye Wheeler, for this close look at allegations by opposition parties and independents candidates of fraud and intimidation by the SPLM during the five-day polling period.


Photo: A crowd gathers around a polling list (Enough/Maggie Fick)