Votes of Sudan’s Diaspora community in United States will have no bearing on Sudan’s upcoming national elections. Sudan embassy records show that only 807 Diaspora community members registered for the upcoming elections before registration closed in December. In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, 303 members of the Diaspora community registered out of approximately over 20,000. The next highest turnout was in Phoenix, Arizona, where 189 are registered, followed by Dallas, Texas’s 102 registered voters. In North Carolina, where an estimated 3,000-5,000 Sudanese reside, only 27 registered.
In April, Sudan will hold its first national multi-party election in 24 years. The election is a major milestone, as part of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 22-year long North-South civil war. According to Angelos Agok, a member of the Sudanese Diaspora residing in the D.C. area, Sudan embassy officials made it difficult for the Sudanese community in the Washington metropolitan area to register for 2010 general elections by changing venue for registration three times on the day of it was set to take place. Agok received similar complaints from other parts of the United States.
Initially, the proposed voter registration centers in the U.S. were in Washington D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles. After concern was raised by Sudanese Diaspora and the South’s ruling party, the National Election Commission expanded the registration locations to include cities in nine other states. Diaspora members in the new locations and nearby states were given short notice of this option, and had one day to register when the Sudanese Embassy delegation arrived.
Among those who visited registration centers, many reported being turned away because embassy officials demanded that Sudanese passports and birth certificates were the only acceptable forms of identification. Having fled the country during times of conflict, often settling in countries such as the U.K., Netherlands, Kenya, Egypt, and others countries, members the Diaspora community often do not have official Sudanese documentation such as passports and other national identification.
How do these obstacles affect the April elections? Not only does the scenario I described mean that many Sudanese voters who have the right to have their voices heard will be disenfranchised; the inability of members of the Diaspora to participate in the election is advantageous for President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party, which does not draw a large following among the Diaspora community in the United States. Sudan’s ruling regime, which is widely expected to win re-election, has been in power since 1989 and has orchestrated the violence that forced many people to flee Sudan’s marginalized areas, including Darfur.
So it’s no wonder that the Sudanese government would see it in its interest to create obstacles for this community to participate in the elections. In United States, where opposition groups could draw a lot of support from Sudanese exiles, no credible competition is expected to emerge to challenge the ruling party. Although Sudan formed a coalition Government of National Unity after the signing of the CPA in 2005, the NCP continues to maintain absolute control over affairs of the nation and such vital assets as the media. State institutions that would have played a vital role before, during, and after the election are not neutral, as evidenced by the well-documented crackdown against opposition groups and NCP manipulation of preparation for the election. In essence, the low numbers of registered voters outside of Sudan is an illustration of the NCP’s dominance even beyond Sudan’s borders.
Jimmy Mulla is the president of the U.S.-based Voices for Sudan. He moved to the United States in 1996 from Egypt.