Fraud Suspected In Sudan Election Results

Poll workers in Sudan are counting ballots cast in the first multi-party elections in 24 years. But Sudan's national government is not expected to change much once the results are announced. Election monitors agree that the vote did not meet international standards.

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There was not much of an electoral eruption in Sudan. Poll workers in Sudan are now counting the ballots cast in the first multiparty elections in 24 years. But Sudan's national government is not expected to change much once the results are announced because a funny thing happened along the way. Here's NPR's Gwen Thompkins.

GWEN THOMPKINS: One of the best stories about vote rigging making the rounds in Khartoum is about a guy who lost an election when residents of the local graveyard voted for his opponent. It wasn't the first time that dead people had been used to throw a vote. But what got the culprits caught is that the dead voted in alphabetical order.

And you know what the funniest part is? It happened in Georgia, and the guy who initially lost that vote was former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The Carter Center is in Sudan to sniff out funny business at the polls. CEO John Hardman said there have been plenty of accusations so far.

Mr. JOHN HARDMAN (The Carter Center): Well, several people have mentioned multiple registrations or ghosts or even dead people on the registration list, or whatever. And we haven't seen any direct evidence. Of course, I'm not sure that we would pick that up.

THOMPKINS: And that's what makes the effectiveness of international monitors difficult to assess. Sudan's political opposition and civil society groups say that fraud is taking place, dirty tricks that would only be apparent to Sudanese. The Carter Center and the European Union ultimately agreed that the vote did not meet international standards. President Carter said he's seen a lot better. But he's also seen a whole lot worse.

President JIMMY CARTER: I would say that the three most perfect elections that we have monitored have been in Palestine. The most fraudulent elections in Africa we've ever seen were in Nigeria. So we have seen extremely good elections and extremely bad elections. And I'll let you judge how to place the Sudanese elections.

POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the political party is the Democratic Unionist Party.

THOMPKINS: Many Sudanese judge their National Elections Commission to be guilty, guilty, guilty. Salah al-Basha is the wry spokesman for the Democratic Union Party, a major opposition group that's still in the race. He says ballots went to the wrong polling stations. Voters were denied a chance to vote. And others were allowed to vote more than once. Nearly everyone who's looked at these elections up close is telling the same funny stories.

Mr. SALAH AL-BASHA (Spokesman, Democratic Unionist Party): We never recognized with this election, despite of the facts that we are still participating - not to win the match; we cannot win it - participating just to discover mistakes every day.

THOMPKINS: Here, in a perfect garden along the Nile River, Sadiq al-Mahdi is seated under a perfect tree. Al-Mahdi is an aristocrat in immaculate white robes, and a neatly trimmed beard dyed burnt orange. He's twice been prime minister of Sudan. And in 1989, he was deposed in a military coup by the current Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. Al-Mahdi had planned to run against al-Bashir for president. But he and his Umma party boycotted when they smelled something funny.

Mr. SADIQ AL-MAHDI (Former Prime Minister): You see, the electoral process, this electoral process is a surrealistic process.

THOMPKINS: On the one hand, Al-Mahdi says, Sudan's ruling party was eager for national elections. But on the other hand, he says, the ruling party flagrantly used government resources, including the National Elections Commission, to erode all possibilities of democracy.

Mr. AL-MAHDI: You know, al-Bashir and his lot, they make certain decisions that are very - let us say extremist, maybe followed by decisions that are very pragmatic. Therefore, I think the present regime is now, to a large extent, schizophrenic.

THOMPKINS: Civil society groups say some errors were made honestly, and others with malice aforethought. But even the ruling party has been complaining. Dr. Ghazi Salah Al-Deen is a moderate voice within al-Bashir's inner circle. He says he couldn't find his own name on some ballots, where he lives.

Dr. GHAZI SALAH AL-DEEN (Sudanese Politician): So I agree with you. There are so many glitches, so many difficulties and problems. But these are the kinds of problems that affect all political parties across the board. So they must not be interpreted as being directed against specific groups.

THOMPKINS: Salah Al-Deen has invited the opposition to join a new coalition government in Sudan, a pragmatic idea that opens a door to power sharing. But another, more extremist party member has said that the political opposition would first have to agree that Sudan's elections were fair. He also said that if anyone dares demonstrate against the vote, the government will crush them. And there's nothing funny about that.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Khartoum.

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