Sudan youth seek once-in-a-lifetime democratic change

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Discontent young Sudanese are campaigning for change in what will be for many the first multi-party elections in their lifetime, urging the opposition to unite against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
"We’re fed up!" read thousands of bright orange leaflets appearing all over the capital, in defiance of a long-standing ban on anti-government papers by the government which took power in a coup more than 20 years ago.

Groups of young Sudanese, forming on the Internet and on the streets, are calling on the splintered opposition to unite at all levels of the elections, presidential and parliamentary, against the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

Some youths distribute leaflets under the radar, throwing them onto buses before running off. A supporter of one group, Girifna, has already been arrested. Others work in the open, saying they are exercising their constitutional rights.
"I’m only worried that they would take away my leaflets, not that anything might happen to me," said 21-year-old student Siraj Omar, a founder of Girifna, which means "We’re fed up".

Members contribute money for the printing with some help from Sudanese expatriates, so every last piece of paper is valuable.
"Everything I have is hanging on this election," said Omar.

Opposition parties say they have suffered threats from Bashir’s government over the years and many of his opponents have fled the country. They say his party committed widespread rights violations and atrocities throughout the country.

The NCP has somewhat relaxed its hardline policies in recent years and says its achievements include peace deals in the south, west and east as well as overseeing economic growth.

Glimmer of change

Taking advantage of a glimmer of democratic change after a 2005 north-south peace agreement ended emergency law and decades of civil war, the groups mostly share one aim: to remove Bashir’s government peacefully and legally.
"One candidate for one nation," runs the slogan of one group, "Khalas!” the Arabic for "Salvation!" or "Enough!" in Sudanese dialect.
"Multiple candidacies pose a tremendous loophole and leave the door open for the NCP candidates to triumph," it says.

Scheduled for April, Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years have already been marred by accusations of electoral fraud including vote buying and intimidation as people began to register to vote on November 1.

The NCP has denied fraud and condemned the leaflet campaigns.
"This is all being done by the opposition parties to defame the NCP," said senior party official Mandour al-Mahdi.

Opposition parties have criticised the elections commission for an information blackout.

But grassroots campaigners say the parties themselves appear unprepared while the NCP has organised tents and delegates at almost every registration centre, readily campaigning for votes.

Many young people are put off by the fact that the likely presidential candidates will be the same party leaders who have dominated politics for decades, some in their 70s.

The groups say their most important message to people who want change is to register now to vote or lose this long awaited opportunity for democracy.

Even young members from Sudan’s myriad of political parties have left their official campaigns to help out, saying their leaders have forgotten how to communicate with the masses.
"We are trying to reach the people in a language they can understand," said Omar.

Most agree the opposition, which has allied in a threat to boycott the vote if democratic change is not forthcoming, is unlikely to unite quickly enough to field joint candidates.



But the driven young activists who are not from Sudan’s big-business families or born into the political elite say they are ready even if the opposition does not unite.
"Whoever is the strongest candidate (against the NCP) from any party in any constituency we’re ready to work for them," said Girifna spokesman Nagi Musa.