Malpractice, Press Censorship and Lack of Transparency are Threats to Election in Sudan
Release Date 12 May 2009
Professor Peter Woodward of the University of Reading's wwwSchool of Politics and International Relationswas a co-author on the report Elections in Sudan: Learning from experience published by the Rift Valley Institute. Peter, who has worked for the VSO in Sudan and been a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Khartoum, is an acknowledged expert in African affairs.
A new report warns that the election in Sudan is in jeopardy unless strong measures are taken to curb malpractice, ensure press freedom and reach out to voters living beyond the central area of the country.
The election is a key feature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended conflict between the Khartoum government and insurgents in Southern Sudan in 2005.
It was due to be held in 2009. Now planned for early 2010, it has been postponed for almost a year. A dispute looms between the two parties to the CPA over the results of a census conducted in preparation for the election.
The new report, Elections in Sudan: Learning from experience, is published by the Rift Valley Institute www.riftvalley.netand written by specialists based in Sudan, the UK and Kenya.
It analyses the abuses that have compromised previous elections in Sudan and contributed to public scepticism about the electoral process.
"The stakes are very high," the report says. "If this election lacks credibility, it is hard to see how the Comprehensive Peace Agreement can survive."
The authors point to the example of Sudan's neighbour, Kenya, where a disputed election last year led to an explosion of ethnic violence.
Malpractice in recent Sudanese elections, the report says, includes stuffing of ballot boxes by election staff, switching of boxes after voting has taken place, vote-buying, intimidation, government interference in news media, and the deliberate exclusion of candidates deemed unsuitable by the ruling party.
In multiparty elections there have been similar abuses, often the work of candidates and their agents.
The report also notes a decline in ethics and professionalism in public service since the 1970s.
"There is a strong possibility," the report states, that the forthcoming election will "suffer from a combination of all the weaknesses that have undermined previous elections."
But, the authors argue, Sudanese history can also provide an example of an election that provided an authentic moment of national cohesion and participation.
The election of 1953, like the present one, was held under difficult circumstances, in an atmosphere of suspicion, with limited time and resources. Yet it confounded sceptics by its orderly nature and by the level of participation by voters.
The election paved the way for Sudanese independence three years later.
For the 2010 election the report recommends international support for voter education in all areas of the country.
Equally important, it says, are guarantees of freedom of movement for candidates and freedom from censorship for news media.
Finally, transparency in preparations for the election is essential.
Carefully monitored logistical support for these preparations - and for the poll itself - should be the focus of international support.
Routine election monitoring will not be enough, the report warns. Only concerted action in all these areas by donor countries, working with the Electoral Commission and the Government of National Unity, can avoid the dire consequences that would result from a discredited election.
The seventy-page report, Elections in Sudan: Learning from experience, is published by the Rift Valley Institute. The report was commissioned by DFID the UK Government Department for International Development). It is launched in Khartoum on 4th May, Juba on 6th May and London on 13th May.
It was written by Sudanese and British experts on political development in
Sudan: Dr Justin Willis, an historian from the University of Durham currently seconded to the British Institute in Eastern Africa; Dr Atta el-Battahani, a political scientist from the University of Khartoum; and Professor Peter Woodward, a political scientist from the University of Reading.
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