National elections in Sudan are due to be held in April. Although despite being a key part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), elections have been delayed three times already, and the April date is by no means guaranteed. Many believe that the US is pressing the parties of the CPA to postpone the election, arguing that there is danger that they won't be seen as credible.
In Darfur, a recent agreement between the government and the anti-government rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has given Darfurians a chance to participate in the upcoming elections. However insecurity and the continuing activity of rebel groups such as the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) has meant there are still many unregistered voters in the region, making full participation unlikely and raising doubts as to the credibility of any poll.
Meanwhile in East Sudan there are major disagreements inside almost all parties – both the two largest parties, National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), and many smaller parties also – around candidate selection. Dissatisfied politicians who have not been nominated are deciding to run as independent candidates.
Further points of difference include:
Census & Electoral Constituencies
The results of a census held in 2008 are crucial to the upcoming elections. It forms the basis for defining constituencies, which in turn determines the number of candidates each party is likely to return, and therefore the result of the election.
Yet, the SPLM does not accept the findings of the census which put the population of South Sudan at 8.62 million, believing this to be a significant underrepresentation with the true figure being more like 11-13 million. In South Kordofan – a key region on the border of the North & South - the SPLM has gone further and announced that it will boycott elections unless the government resets the disputed results of the census and redraws constituencies accordingly.
Similarly, many in Darfur feel the NCP inflated the numbers of Arabs in the region, counting those that actually came from elsewhere in Sudan, while the Fur, Masaleet, Zaghawah, Gimir, Birgid and many other ethnic groups, were not always counted.
Many people object to the idea that the incumbent Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, is being allowed to stand for reelection. He is the only acting head of state to have been subject to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) - where he stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Further the court has recently decided to look again at the case against al-Bashir for the greater crime of genocide. Rivals also cite accusations of corruption and lying.
The NCP has almost absolute control over the media in Sudan. SPLM Presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, has accused the media of giving opposition candidates no more than 20 minutes coverage a day, whilst running NCP propaganda around the clock.
Violence & Intimidation
The election campaign is being conducted in a climate of fear and intimidation. The security services, particularly outside Khartoum, are known to be arresting and intimidating opposition party activists in order to prevent political campaigning. Opponents of the SPLM accuse them of using similar tactics to undermine political activity in the south.
The government has made some concessions to ally the concerns of the SPLM in particular, including giving the South 40 extra seats in the National Assembly, with an extra 4 constituencies to South Kordofan and 2 for Abyei. It will also recount the population of South Kordofan – redrawing constituencies appropriately – putting local and regional assembly elections in the state on hold until later in the year, but crucially presidential elections will still go ahead next month. However, whether this will prove enough to ensure next months elections are not delayed for a fourth time time, is still very much in doubt.