Sudan will hold its first multi-party elections in 24 years in April. But already there are complaints about fraud, irregularities and obstacles to opposition parties taking part.
Here are some possible scenarios in the run up to the elections.
A group of more than 20 political parties said they would boycott the elections if a package of democratic laws was not passed. All the laws were passed in parliament in December.
But the law governing granting the intelligence services wide powers to arrest and search was only forced through by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) in the teeth of fierce opposition.
While concerns remain over that law and a stringent media bill, the parties are however likely to participate in the elections and many have already announced their presidential candidates.
About 20 political parties who formed a joint position in south Sudan’s capital Juba last year have said they may field joint candidates for the parliamentary and state governor elections.
The NCP has expressed concern at an opposition alliance against their candidates. For smaller parties like the Communist Party an alliance would be an advantage. But the Umma Party, which historically has been one of Sudan’s largest political parties, wants a bigger share of seats, its members say.
Some analysts believe the opposition will be unlikely to agree on fully integrated lists in time for nominations next week and may field only women’s or partially joint lists. A quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for women.
The only major opposition party outside the Juba alliance is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) headed by the al-Merghani family. They are in talks with the NCP but have yet to announce a formal position ahead of the elections.
The Umma Party and DUP formed a joint government after winning the last democratic elections in 1986, before being overthrown by Bashir in a coup three years later.
The Juba alliance parties will field separate nominations for the presidential elections to split the vote. If no one gets more than half the presidential vote, the top two candidates go head to head in another round of voting. Alliance members say they would unite to back any second-round candidate against Bashir, who is widely expected to be one of the front runners.
Bashir and the ICC
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir last year for war crimes in Darfur, a move the NCP portrayed as Western infringement on Sudan’s sovereignty.
The move was followed by a nationwide publicity campaign portraying Bashir as a strong leader standing firm against foreign interference. The NCP is desperate for Bashir to win the presidential election to legitimise his government in the face of international condemnation over atrocities in Darfur.
Darfur was for years a base for the Umma Party. But the rebellion led by young mostly non-Arab rebels in 2003 and the government’s brutal counter-insurgency campaign broke down traditional tribal allegiances in the arid region.
In the absence of a comprehensive Darfur peace deal, rebel leaders have told their constituents not to participate in elections.
They question whether credible elections can be held in Darfur while the conflict continues. However the National Elections Commission has said large numbers of those who fled their homes to camps in Darfur have registered to vote.
Opposition parties accuse the NCP of misleading and intimidating voters, taking their registration slips and faking identity papers. They also say the requirements for candidacy of not holding any criminal record may rule out many of their own members, who have been imprisoned on trumped up charges by the government over the years.
In the south, the NCP accused the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of vote-rigging after five of the 10 southern states registered more than 100 percent of eligible voters. The SPLM said the census, on which the estimated numbers of voters were based, was flawed and the two parties have yet to agree on how to overcome the SPLM’s rejection of the census.
Opposition parties worry that the NCP’s control over the police, intelligence services and army as well as state television and radio will sway the vote. Police violently broke up two peaceful opposition demonstrations in December and have refused permission for some other public political parties rallies or debates.
Some fear an NCP win may cause a violent reaction in a population anxious for democratic change. Others worry the NCP would not accept defeat, which could also lead to violence.
On January 9, 2011 southern Sudanese vote in a referendum on independence from the north. While most analysts agree the south is likely to vote for secession, many Sudanese question why the elections have been scheduled just nine months ahead of the referendum. In the case of secession, any positions or seats won by the SPLM and other southern Sudanese parties in the north would have to be re-elected, as would any NCP victories in the south.