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Dispatch from Khartoum: Assessing Sudan Elections

April 21st, 2010, bySEAN BROOKS

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This is an excerpt from a post first published at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Millions of Sudanese have just finished voting in their country’s first multiparty elections in 24 years. Election officials estimate that, in a relatively peaceful process, turnout of registered voters exceeded 70 percent nationwide, including up to 55 percent in one state in war-ravaged Darfur.

The voting period was extended from three to five days due to a host of technical problems and irregularities. Sometime this week, the National Election Commission will announce the
results.

Yet despite the higher than expected estimated turnout, the election should hardly be a cause for celebration among advocates for democracy. At the top of the ballot, Sudanese leader and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir’s name appeared as his party’s candidate for president.

Bashir took power via military coup in 1989. In the years since, his regime prosecuted a war in the south from 1989 through 2005 and, more notoriously, has conducted a deadly policy of mass murder and displacement in Darfur since 2003.

On the surface, the Bashir government has made all the right moves, urging all Sudanese parties to participate and asking the international community to observe the process. But the facts on the ground show a government that has engaged in political repression and intimidation, and an election that fell short of international standards.

Citing the restrictive environment, in the last week of the campaign period leading opposition parties announced a general boycott of the elections. As the results from the election are counted up, one thing is clear: A “democratically elected” Bashir government will be no less ruthless and oppressive than the Bashir military dictatorship.

Yet since last fall, the Obama administration has avoided directly challenging the credibility of Sudan’s elections, despite being heavily engaged in mediation efforts across Sudan. Many analysts feel that the U.S. merely wants to get past the elections in order to focus on the critical referendum for south Sudan scheduled for January 2011 — a vote that many expect will lead to the south’s secession from Sudan. It’s an outcome that the U.S. favors, predicting that the south will be a reliable, oil-producing ally in restive East Africa.

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In a bid to set the table for next year, the administration has seemed ready to accept the legitimization of the Bashir regime in this month’s vote in exchange for his cooperation on the referendum.

But with the election’s legitimacy in tatters, President Obama must be clear that the election of Bashir will have no effect on how the U.S. views those in power in Khartoum — as an unrepresentative clique that refuses to loosen their firm grip on the country.

And regardless of the results, the administration must continue to pressure all parties to bring comprehensive and durable peace to Darfur, implement the final stages of the north-south peace agreement that mandates the 2011 referendum, and carry on the long process of democratization that serves as the most solid foundation for durable peace.

Sean Brooks is a policy analyst at the Save Darfur Coalition. He recently returned from a month-long  trip to Sudan.

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Last modified: May 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm