Africa

Sudan Elections An Opportunity With Dire Potential

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Sudan holds national, multi-party elections from Sunday to Tuesday. Despite opposition threats to boycott the elections and a poor security environment, the U.S. envoy for Sudan says they will be "as free and fair as possible." There will be international monitors, including former President Jimmy Carter. Critics fear the elections will bestow undeserved legitimacy on President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2008 for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Host Liane Hansen speaks with NPR's Gwen Thompkins in Kartoum about the elections.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Sudan, voters are heading to the poles in what has been billed as the first multi-party elections in 24 years. All seats are in play nationwide, including the presidency of the republic and the presidency of the semi-autonomous south.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who seized power in a military coup years ago, is expected to win easily but that may be because many of his political opponents have left the race.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in Khartoum. And, Gwen, I understand there will be three days of voting for various offices around the country. How's day one going so far?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, Liane, you know, for an election that everybody knew was coming, there's been an awful lot of confusion. As you mentioned, the presidential candidates, so many of them have pulled out in recent days, but their names are still on the ballots. And at the polling stations, there seems to be some confusion about who gets to vote.

HANSEN: Many in Sudan's political opposition are accusing the ruling party, President Bashir's party, of dirty tricks. What kind of impropriety are they talking about?

THOMPKINS: First, they're talking about what they consider to be problems with the ballots. The ballots were supposed to be printed outside of Sudan. In the end, the government, which is of course controlled by the ruling party, decided to give the contract to a company that is very, very close to the ruling party. So that created an awful lot of distrust among the other parties.

Also, there are problems with voter registration. You know, in the final days of voting registration, millions of names came up onto the rolls and there is real concern about whether those names are real. Some allege that there could be four to six million ghost-names on the registries, so that has also led to distrust and, you know, opposition parties abandoning the process.

HANSEN: Gwen, with all this confusion, I mean, is everyone confident the election will move forward?

THOMPKINS: Absolutely. Bashir himself has made his wishes very well known. He's been fairly threatening to international monitors, elections monitors who he believes might be clouding the process, you know, with claims of impropriety.

But then also, the international community is behind this election. You know, the U.S. was central to the brokering of a peace agreement between North and South Sudan that ended a 21 year civil war. And that peace agreement mandates that these national elections happen. Without the national election the peace agreement does not move forward.

Also, without these elections, next year's referendum for the south - in which southern voters are going to able to vote for independence from Khartoum, from Bashir, from the Republic of Sudan - that vote will not take place and everyone wants that referendum to move forward in 2011.

HANSEN: NPR's Gwen Thompkins in Khartoum, Gwen thank you very much.

THOMPKINS: Thank you so much, Liane.

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