Sudan elections pose threat to peace
(24 March 2010)
The upcoming elections in Sudan could undermine its peace agreement, according to a new study which predicts widespread electoral malpractice and organisational problems.
The elections, to be held at the start of April, are likely to leave some voters excluded and with little or no faith in politics at a time when their confidence in the system is absolutely essential, say the authors of the study from Durham and Khartoum Universities.
Study author Professor Justin Willis, an expert in African elections at Durham University, also warns that it is too late to make the elections properly fair and inclusive: "They now have the air of a train crash which we are powerless to prevent," he says.
Professor Willis and his colleague Dr Atta el Battahani, from the University of Khartoum, who publish their study in the journal African Affairs, say that the combination of corrupt electoral practice and organisational failures can lead to a rapid loss of public confidence with immediate violent consequences, as was seen in Kenya in 2007. There, protests and violent riots broke out after the disputed elections.
Last year, in their first report, the researchers called on the international community to take urgent action to ensure the elections are organised and monitored effectively. They now fear that - despite the efforts of some international agencies - it is too late to make the elections fully free and fair.
Professor Willis, who has spent the last three years as Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa, based in Nairobi, commented: "There has been malpractice in all previous elections in Sudan. This has been pervasive enough to have made all Sudanese suspicious of whether any election can offer genuine choice. It is too late to make these elections fully fair; we must now be ready to deal with the political consequences of problematic elections."
A referendum in January 2011 will decide whether the south should stay part of a united Sudan, or become an independent state. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed on 9 January 2005, ended the protracted civil war in southern Sudan.
Co-author Dr Atta el Battahani said: "Up to now, calls for postponing elections to allow for inclusion of Darfur and to have more time preparing for complex organisational tasks in managing multiple elections have been dismissed by both parties of the Government of National Unity, the NCP and SPLM.
"This move reflects the reluctance of the two parties to sacrifice their short term interest in rushing elections for the sake of long term interest of ensuring an inclusive peace process and paving the way for genuinely representative and sound elections".
Professor Willis added: "If the international community wait until results are being declared and then say the elections were not credible, they themselves will be accused of partiality which will in turn further endanger the peace deal.
"If, however, they decide it is better to try and keep the peace agreement alive by announcing that the elections were acceptable, in spite of evidence of problems, they will be criticised by multiple voices inside and outside Sudan. The stakes are high either way."
Professor Willis suggests that observers should now be absolutely candid about potential problems, particularly with a view to distinguishing between problems arising from intentional malpractice and those arising from organisational weaknesses.
The research found malpractice in previous elections has included gerrymandering, multiple voting, impersonation, intimidation, and ballot box switches. Organisational challenges have compounded all other problems with difficulties in preparing registers and staffing polling stations, according to the study.
The original research was carried out in 2008-9 to supply international workers and the Sudanese involved in the election with some sense of historical context, with the aim of helping them in the formidable task of preparing for elections.
The team, managed by the Rift Valley Institute, undertook archival research, surveyed published work and media coverage on previous elections and conducted interviews with people who had been involved in elections at different levels. The research in Sudan was undertaken in greater Khartoum, Wad Medani, Shendi and Juba.