Sudanese Go To The Polls In First Election In Decades

Voting began in Sudan Sunday, in the first election in decades for the oil-rich African nation and one that will set the stage for the south to decide next year whether it will become independent. Official results aren't expected for at least another week, and the polls will be open until Tuesday. But President Omar al-Bashir, the military dictator who has run the country since 1989, is widely expected to win, especially since the most serious challengers have dropped out of the race amid allegations of a marred vote.

Voting began in Sudan Sunday, in the first election in decades for the oil-rich African nation and one that will set the stage for the south to decide next year whether it will become independent.

Official results aren't expected for at least another week, and the polls will be open until Tuesday. But President Omar al-Bashir, the military dictator who has run the country since 1989, is widely expected to win, especially since the most serious challengers have dropped out of the race amid allegations of a marred vote.

Despite tensions, both the northern and southern regimes are anxious for calm during the elections. Mr. al-Bashir wants the legitimacy that a democratic win would offer in the eyes of the international community, as he attempts to persuade the oil-endowed south not to secede. The main southern opposition party sees this vote as a necessary step toward its independence.
 

On Sunday, voting got off to a slow but peaceful start. Amid tight security, some polling stations in the north and south opened later than usual. When they did, voters trickled into stations, where people slipped marked ballots into large, transparent bins sealed with plastic ties.

The 16 million registered voters will choose presidential, parliamentary and regional candidates. In the north, people will cast eight ballots for presidential, parliamentary and regional candidates. In the south, which is an autonomous region, residents will mark 12 such ballots.

One polling official in the southern city of Juba attributed the poor early turnout to the three-day voting process. "Most people prefer staying in their homes on Sunday," said Thomas Luku, an elections official. "Most people are likely to vote during the next two days."

One of the election's trouble spots may be the western region of Darfur. Mr. al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity for mass killings there that left about 200,000 people dead. Millions of people have been displaced, their homes burned to the ground by government-based militias. But Darfur is also a populous region, and Mr. al-Bashir needs those votes to win.

Mr. al-Bashir's government is accused of manipulating the census, voter registration and demarcation of voting districts to exclude many of the people displaced by violence in Darfur, who are hostile to the president. But he made sure to count Arab nomads in that region who support him, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. Violence could erupt there if residents feel the results have been rigged.

Majok Guandong, the Sudanese ambassador to Nairobi, on Sunday dismissed charges that the electoral process had been orchestrated to benefit Mr. al-Bashir in Darfur or elsewhere. "All parties were part and parcel of the process," Mr. Guandong said. He added that the political parties, who have boycotted the vote, would have pulled out much earlier had they truly believed the vote would be unfair. Instead, he said, they had done so for fear of losing.

"They know that President al-Bashir is going to win," he said.

source : wsj.com