Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir took his whirlwind election campaign to one of the areas worst hit by 22 years of civil war, launching a big power project at a sometimes chaotic rally.
“This is real development, not just promises made during elections,” he told thousands of cheering supporters yesterday as he campaigned for Sudan’s first democratic polls in 24 years in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan state.
Bashir hopes to legitimise his government by winning next month’s elections, defying an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest for war crimes in the troubled western Darfur region.
South Kordofan played a leading role in negotiations for a separate referendum to be held next year, when southern Sudan will decide whether to secede from the nation.
During years of negotiations, Bashir’s National Congress Party and the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) struggled to agree on whether the state would vote with the south in the referendum, or remain in the north.
Under a compromise in a 2005 peace deal to end the north-south civil war, a popular consultation process will be held, giving South Kordofan’s residents the chance to choose further autonomy from the central government.
Sudan’s civil war claimed two million lives and drove more than four million people from their homes. At Wednesday’s rally, the thousands who came to see Bashir were happy the years of war were over.
“We love Bashir because he brought us peace, development, stability,” said Sittna Mohamed, a 40-year-old woman from the Abbasia tribe.
But many said the best solution for South Kordofan and Sudan was continued partnership between the former foes, whose parties now officially share power in the Khartoum government. “We want them to continue their partnership. Bashir and (SPLM chief) Salva Kiir are brothers,” said 28-year-old Kowser Ibrahim.
South Kordofan’s governor, Ahmed Haroun, who is also wanted by the ICC for war crimes in the separate Darfur rebellion, said the $680 million electricity plant and $270 million supply network would begin to produce power in stages. “In 18 months it will be half capacity and in 36 months full capacity,” he said.
Colourful but unruly
Bashir’s rally was colourful if unruly. Supporters fashioned patterns out of coloured paper saying “South Kordofan – peace”, while school children marched in formation and camels were draped in pictures of Bashir and a tree, his party’s symbol.
But the children got hemmed in and squashed, and tried to escape screaming and crying as police allowed the crowds to surge forward to listen to Bashir’s speech.
On the campaign trail Bashir is making more than 31 visits to Sudan’s regions in 54 days, exhausting his big team of protocol and security staff and dwarfing similar efforts by opposition parties.
Accusations of electoral fraud are growing and ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on Tuesday that monitoring the polls would be like monitoring a vote in Nazi Germany
In Kadugli Bashir seemed tireless, dancing his traditional campaign jig more vigorously than usual.
Opposition parties complain that his party is using government funds and resources in campaigning, which it denies.
Tensions are rising as international observers said the National Elections Commission still had not resolved major gaps in voter lists and may need a slight delay. Bashir reacted angrily by threatening to expel them.
The opposition has also accused the NEC of corruption and bias towards Bashir’s NCP, which the commission denies.
Pic: Sudanese President- Omar Hassan al-Bashir