STAKES ARE HIGH AS SUDAN PREPARES FOR GENERAL ELECTIONS
By Paul Ndiho
Sudan’s first multi-party elections in over two decades are scheduled for April 11th. The ballot is stipulated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The CPA ended the long and bloody conflict between the north and south, and the elections would give a chance to Sudanese to freely choose representatives for the first time since 1986.Several weeks from the country’s first national election in 24 years, Sudan stands at a crossroads. The election is a major milestone in its Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA. Sudan’s government just signed a ceasefire with the main Darfur rebel group, paving the way for a broader peace deal. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir took his campaign for the presidency to the semi-autonomous south, from which for over two decades was at war with his government.
“If I am elected President I will work to protect the peace, for the implementation of the CPA to its last article. If I become president whether the south separates or not I will still be with the southerners. The projects we have promised, we will implement.”
Sudan’s ruling party is under pressure to open the election to all key participants and make it credible. In Washington, a coalition of prominent religious leaders is calling on the U.S. Congress to support the continuing implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Bishop David Jones, says that there is widespread mistrust in Sudan.
“Quite frankly, what I encountered in meeting with bishops in Sudan was a profound mistrust with the government in the North. A sense that there was a fair that the elections might not happen….And it seem that the government was trying to manipulate the process, and I wish there was more trust. But some of the actions especially the genocide in Darfur has certainly had the effect of eroding the trust in the present government.”
Observers say that after the ballot, elected officials would then be able to work on making unity attractive to the south. Southerners will vote in January 2011 whether to remain in a united Sudan or form an independent country. Analysts say that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the SPLM, is interested in consolidating its position in the south before the independence referendum. In February, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir began his campaign for president of the semi autonomous state, pledging to stamp out corruption.
“If they had not voted for me, they would have brought in their nominees and we would be fighting with their nominees. I have only one challenger and I don’t think the challenger is from the southern Sudanese political party, Nano, although a southerner. We will come and hear from him and I wish he comes to launch his campaign.”
Many southerners have become frustrated at the slow process of development and perceived corruption in their oil-producing region. Kiir has decided to run for the top position in the south, choosing a more junior member of the SPLM Yasir Arman to compete for the presidency for the whole of Sudan. But Kiir is widely expected to win the southern vote.