By El-tahir El-faki
September 15, 2008 — The Coming Elections in Sudan scheduled for 2009 are very essential for democratic transformation and peaceful handover of power. The provisions for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) call for census within two years of the agreement, elections in 2009 and a referendum in 2011. Therefore, the elections should be conducted in July 2009. The National Congress Party unlike its counterpart the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM is very keen for the elections to be held on time. The (SPLM) expressed its intentions to postpone the elections beyond July and was considering arranging for a meeting with the NCP to reschedule the date for another time perhaps by December 2009 or beyond. Luka Biong, the Southern Minister for Presidential Affairs told reporters that it would not be feasible to hold the elections in July because of the rainy season and logistical hurdles. On the contrary the Sudan ruling National Congress Party (NCP) declared its intent through Dr. Ibrahim Gandour holding its election dossier, that he wants the elections to be held on time and does not see the need for any delay or rescheduling arrangements. He told the pro-government Sudanese Media Center (SMC) that the Government of National Unity (GNU) received no official notification from the (SPLM) requesting a postponement. He went further to say that it is up to the elections commission to make such decisions if it sees it reasonable. It should be noted here that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) allows for a reschedule, if agreed by the two parties.
Now it is clear that the NCP has scored a pre-emptive call for the elections by July 2009 when it knows for sure that the environment is right for it alone to secure an outright win. It is therefore left for the SPLM to react positively and turns the conditions to its favour. The call by NCP seems exploitative but that is what politics is all about. It is not enough for the SPLM to argue that elections are difficult during heavy rainy season. This argument does not hold well as observers from different parts of the world would not understand that those committed to democracy will not do everything to cast their votes and would not miss because of rain.
The arguments against holding the elections in the year 2009 are plenty:
First of all, elections are to be preceded by an accurate census. We know for sure that the fifth census in Sudan conducted 15-30th April 2008 did not include whole of Darfur, Kordofan and some areas of the South itself. The results are still pending and are expected by the end of the year. The problems that will arise are whether they will be accepted by all the political forces in Sudan and the two major partners in the GNU or not! As far as the Darfur movements are concerned, all of them including Minni Minawi’s faction rejected the census and its expected outcome right at the outset. If the results are rejected by SPLM it will create a major set back for the NCP especially when the count for the South comes low. Allocations of constituencies are based on the actual results of the census. For the SPLM to win, it needs the support of those in the marginalised areas mainly in Darfur, Kordofan, the East and Khartoum. The NCP knows for fact that it is not going to win there without counteracting those constituencies or rigging the elections. It is therefore vital for the SPLM to insure that the result of the census reflects reality on the ground. Preliminary estimates have already shown that the population size in the South remains less than five million people and that certainly makes a huge difference for the SPLM. It means fewer constituencies. It will be easy for the NCP to argue that the census was conducted according to international criteria and that estimates in Darfur were taken from international registry of the internally displaced Darfurians in the camps and in areas where difficulties made it impossible to carry the count out. It should be remembered that it is not essential to conduct the elections in Darfur if instability proves a problem. The international community will certainly accept elections without Darfur based on real intentions and precedents before such as in Srilanka and Angola.
The US administration has allocated around $100 million for the coming elections to succeed in Sudan as a commitment to the provisions of the CPA and will make sure that elections take place. The SPLM should start forming alliances with Darfurian rebels, mainly JEM to insure the support of the marginalised that it represents in Darfur, Kordofan, East Sudan and Khartoum itself. Vice President Silva Kiir should come out and sell himself to the marginalised by visiting Darfur and the rest of Sudan. He should make himself visible and interact with the Sudanese people who will see him as a real alternative. JEM indicated as early as 2002 that it wants to see the next president from the south in a united Sudan. It is high time that vision becomes true.
Secondly, elections cannot proceed in a meaningful way without peaceful environment. The Darfur problem remains a destabilising factor for peace in the whole of Sudan since JEM took the war to the centre in May 2008. The NCP will argue that the situation in Darfur is stable and under its control and that all areas except for a small percentage will not stop the elections to be carried out. JEM, the strongest and more politically organised among the Movements argues forcefully against holding elections in atmosphere of war which will only lead to manipulation and vote rigging by the NCP. JEM is not against genuine, fair, transparent and free elections as the sole means of democratic handover of power at conditions that are right for the process. Peace is a prerequisite for that process. The SPLM is not going to win in such atmosphere where the NCP masters manipulations and rigging of elections by default whatever observers do. JEM is looking for a comprehensive holistic peaceful settlement of the Sudan problem in Darfur. There is no moral justification for continuing the war if genuine commitment to a peaceful settlement comes into the surface. All indicators show that the NCP is not interested in peace because it knows that it will deprive it from a major constituency that eventually allies with the SPLM and will not vote for it. The status quo leaves the Arab tribes that have displaced the Africans in Darfur free to vote for the NCP.
Thirdly, control of the national media and TV remains tightly in the grip of the NCP and the SPLM has little chance of ever sharing equal chances. While this situation remains the SPLM or the other political forces are certain to lose. The SPLM should strive hard to have the same chances in the national media and make it a precondition for holding the elections. So far it has not been allowed to penetrate into the media arena where the NCP takes full control. For a fighting force to change into a political party such as the SPLA takes time to grasp all the intricacies of politics in a short period. The SPLM has been working hard to engage with its grassroots in the south while at the same time providing security against descent into anarchy. It needs time to prepare itself properly against the experienced NCP that has been in power for nearly twenty years.
Fourthly, the election laws that the SPLM was forced to accept should be reviewed. Disagreements already surfaced between it and the NCP over membership of the elections commission and its composition. SPLM should recognise that the political stage in Sudan is marred by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to indict Al-Bashir who faces ten charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder for masterminding a campaign to eradicate three main African tribes in Darfur; mainly Zaghawa, Fur and Massaleit. The NCP wants to see that elections take place before the arrest warrant against him is issued. It should be realised that the indictment will have a negative effect on the elections. The negative effect will be created by the NCP and not by the process of the elections per se. The SPLM should avoid handing over a flawed easy elections victory to the NCP. Al-Bashir and some of his official entourages have publicly warned of serious repercussions if the ICC judges endorse the charges against him. The evidences against him are compelling. He will not give up power voluntarily and neither would his cabinet that fear the same outcome. Sudanese Justice Minister Mr Abdel Basit Sabdrat, said that a political ‘tsunami’ may unfold if an arrest warrant is issued. He continued to draw a grim picture of what might happen by saying; ‘things will be done differently and it won’t be business as usual like many people think’. While he did not specify what will happen, observers expressed concerns that Sudan may be allowed by the NCP to descend into anarchy and become another Somalia-like in case of arrest warrant against Al-Bashir has been issued. The SPLM must act responsibly and take all these factors into consideration. It must work with all the other political forces and the Darfurian movements in particular to insure that this scenario will not unfold and that it wins against the NCP if elections were held prior to the arrest warrant.
Fifthly and lastly, the funding for the elections also constitutes a formidable problem. The NCP has at its disposal huge financial reserves stolen from the state that are uses to support its campaign. It managed to buy constituencies that were once strongholds of the major sectarian parties. The SPLM faces a difficult situation whereby the money that comes from oil revenue is not enough to run the whole south let alone being spent on elections. It has to insure equal funding before accepting the coming elections that are a make or break for the final outcome of the future referendum. The NCP would not mind to see the South separate and become incarcerated in a small new state that it will easily destabilise and create all difficulties for it to survive. Above all, Sudan does not belong to the NCP and will be a great pity to allow it to disintegrate. If the South decides to leave, and perhaps it will, then it certainly needs a stable and friendly neighbour and not one like the current one ruled by the NCP.
Dr. El-tahir El-faki is the Speaker for the Legislative Council/JEM. He can be reached at [email protected]