Sudanese politicians say poor logistics were preventing hundreds of thousands of voters from taking part in the country’s first full election in 24 years, with some early turnout figures below 10 percent.
The National Elections Commission painted a different picture, saying the turnout was “high and encouraging”.
Voting began on Sunday and was extended to last five days to allow more time for the complex presidential, legislative and gubernatorial polls in Africa’s largest country.
Election monitors across Sudan said early voting had been affected by missing ballot boxes, poorly trained staff and confusion over the location of voting centres.
The vote seeks to transform the oil producing nation, emerging from decades of civil war, into a democracy, but several major parties announced a boycott on grounds of fraud.
The election looks likely to confirm the 21-year rule of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes in Darfur.
“The elections (in south Sudan) so far have been a slow process with many pockets of confusion and polling stations facing major obstacles,” Anne Itto, a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), told reporters.
South Sudan’s heavyweight SPLM sparked a crisis of confidence in the polls this month when it withdrew its presidential candidate, seen as the main contender to Bashir.
It is boycotting most of the votes in the north.
The former rebels ended more than two decades of north-south civil war by signing a peace deal with Bashir in 2005, and are now part of a tense national coalition government.
The elections have been free of violence, a major achievement for a country whose history is full of conflict.
Yesterday an al-Arabiya television cameraman was punched in the face by a police colonel in Khartoum, a staff member said.
“We took it to the police and we met two colonels who offered an official apology,” said Bassim al-Jamal who was with the cameraman who was attacked.
“This was just one crazy man,” al-Jamal said of their attacker, adding the cameraman was not injured.
Officials and observers said in both the south and north, names missing from the electoral register were a major problem.
Itto mentioned an area in the town of Torit where she said only two percent managed to vote on the first day and listed six other areas where she said the first day’s turnout was between three and 10 percent.
The NEC gave turnout figures yesterday of 67 % in Northern state and 60 % in Jonglei and 65 % in Unity states in the south.
“There is a marked improvement in voting in Khartoum state after the difficulties on the first day,” the NEC said in a statement.
Tamam, an alliance of more than 100 civil society groups in Sudan monitoring the elections, said the turnout was very low on the third day and there were numerous cases of missing voters’ names and ballot paper mix-ups.
“We are advocating to stop the elections and repeat the process. (The problems are) so widespread that the whole process, the whole election has to be repeated,” said Shamseddin Dawalbeit, deputy head of Tamam.
Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) acknowledged there was low turnout in some regions, particularly in the south, but said participation in Khartoum and other areas was encouraging.
“I think that in some areas in the south the turnout may be a bit weaker … with the logistics problems and transport problems and the high illiteracy rate,” senior NCP official Ibrahim Ghandour told Reuters.
“But overall, the voting process is going on very well. There is a very peaceful atmosphere and a considerable rush from the voters in some areas.”
Pic: President Muammar Al Bashir of Sudan