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YYY: Crisis Group concerned about Sudan's rigged elections

Crisis Group concerned about Sudan's rigged elections

 InDepth News 14 May 2019

(Originally published: 04/2010) The independent International Crisis Group has predicted "catastrophic consequences" for Sudan if President Omar al-Bashir – who is charged of war crimes – and his party are returned to power in the elections in Darfur April 11-13, which the government in Khartoum is accused of rigging. Amidst threats of a last-minute boycott by the opposition parties, the Crisis Group's latest policy briefing 'Elections in Darfur and the Consequences of a Probable NCP Victory in Sudan' examines how the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has manipulated the 2008 census, drafted the election laws in its favour, gerrymandered electoral districts, co-opted traditional leaders and bought tribal loyalties.  - By Jaya Ramachandran

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The independent International Crisis Group has predicted "catastrophic consequences" for Sudan if President Omar al-Bashir - who is charged of war crimes - and his party are returned to power in the elections in Darfur April 11-13, which the government in Khartoum is accused of rigging.

Amidst threats of a last-minute boycott by the opposition parties, the Crisis Group's latest policy briefing 'Elections in Darfur and the Consequences of a Probable NCP Victory in Sudan' examines how the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has manipulated the 2008 census, drafted the election laws in its favour, gerrymandered electoral districts, co-opted traditional leaders and bought tribal loyalties.

It has done this everywhere in Sudan, but most dramatically in Darfur, where it has greater freedom and means to carry out its strategy because that is the only region still under emergency rule, says the Group headed by Louise Arbour, who served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2004 to 2008.

Winning big in Darfur is considered central to the NCP's plan to capture enough votes in the North to ensure its continued national dominance.

"The legal environment for free and fair elections does not exist," says Fouad Hikmat, Crisis Group's Sudan Special Adviser. "The international community should acknowledge that whoever wins will lack legitimacy".

The flawed results of the 2008 census were used to draw electoral districts, apportion seats in the national and state legislatures and organise the voter registration drive. Census takers - aided by NCP party organisers - expended great efforts to count supporters in Southern Darfur (mostly inhabited by Arabs), nomads of Northern Darfur and some tribes loyal to the party.

They also reportedly counted newcomers from Chad and Niger, who had settled in areas originally inhabited by persons displaced in the Darfur conflict, and issued them identity papers so they can vote as Sudanese citizens. However, most of the estimated 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) living in camps, as well as people from groups hostile to the NCP living in "insecure" neighbourhoods of cities and the population of rebel-controlled areas were not counted.

The International Crisis Group warns that while observation missions from the European Union, the African Union and the Carter Center may help prevent the most flagrant electoral fraud and ballot stuffing, but much of the rigging has already occurred.

Furthermore, observers will only assess the quality of the elections. "They cannot be expected to make broader recommendations. President Omar al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for multiple atrocity crimes in the Darfur conflict, and the NCP will almost certainly win the presidential and legislative polls, but it will be up to governments and intergovernmental organisations to act to limit the damage," says the Crisis Group.


LITTLE HOPE FOR DARFURIS

Looking ahead, the Group points out that in addition to making it clear that the victors lack a genuinely democratic mandate, they must push for the Darfur peace talks to resume immediately after the elections and insist that any Darfur peace deal provide for a new census, voter registration and national voting.

"Since the April vote will impose illegitimate officials through rigged polls, Darfuris will be left with little or no hope of a peaceful change in the status quo", warns EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group's Horn of Africa Project Director. "Instead many will look to rebel groups to fight and win back their lost rights and lands".

Darfur is important for the NCP because Southern Darfur is the second most populous state and Northern Darfur is the fifth. The three Darfur states combined have 19 per cent of Sudan's population, according to the flawed 2008 census. This is slightly less than the South.

Darfur has been allocated 86 seats out of 450 in the national assembly - the latter number may increase to 496, if the assembly approves an agreement the NCP reached with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, SPLM, the dominant party in the South. Winning big in Darfur is thus central to the NCP's hopes of capturing enough votes in northern Sudan to ensure its continued national dominance.

The NCP was able to gain advantages by dominating the drafting of election laws, despite opposition from the SPLM (Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement) and other parties, and through the demarcation of favourable new electoral districts based on the flawed census results and organised by a National Elections Commission (NEC) heavily influenced by NCP members appointed to its various branches. As a result, constituencies have been added in areas where NCP supporters are the majority and removed in areas where they are not.

"The result is an almost certain victory for the NCP. And the consequences for Darfur are catastrophic. Disenfranchising large numbers of people will only further marginalise them. Since the vote will impose illegitimate officials through rigged polls, they will be left with little or no hope of a peaceful change in the status quo, and many can be expected to look to rebel groups to fight and win back their lost rights and lands," warns the Crisis Group.

Ideally, elections would be held after a peace deal has been negotiated and the problems with the census, voter registration and demarcation of electoral districts resolved. However, this is not likely.

The NCP is desperate to legitimise the indicted President al-Bashir, and the SPLM fears any delay may risk jeopardising the South's January 2011 self-determination referendum. To contain the damage from rigged elections to both the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South conflict and the Darfur peace process, the Crisis Group considers it necessary that:

- Electoral observation missions in Sudan take note of the severely flawed process, and governments and international organisations, especially the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council, state that whoever wins will lack a genuinely democratic mandate to govern;

- The international community, working closely with the AUHIP, demand that CPA implementation and Darfur peace negotiations resume immediately after the elections, and any new peace deal in Darfur include provisions for a new census and voter registration drive in the region and new national elections at that time; and

- The AU, UN and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as well as other key international supporters of the CPA act immediately after the election to encourage the Khartoum government and the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) to agree on the critical steps needed to ensure a peaceful self-determination referendum in the South in January 2011 and stability in both North and South in the aftermath of that referendum.

Darfur, which literally means the "realm of the Fur", was an independent sultanate for several hundred years. It was incorporated into Sudan by Anglo-Egyptian forces between 1899 and 1956. The region covers an area of some 493,180 square kilometres approximately the size of Spain.

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