BEIRUT

Middle East

Sudan to hold controversial elections in April

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir attends a session during the 25th Extraordinary Summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development on South Sudan in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa March 13, 2014. (REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)

KHARTOUM: Sudan is to go ahead with general elections in April, the agency in charge of the ballot confirmed Wednesday, despite opposition concerns that the vote is being imposed.

It is still unclear whether President Omar al-Bashir will stand for re-election, 25 years after he seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.

He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in war-torn Darfur.

The vote for president, national and state legislators and for governors will be only the second since the coup.

Elections which Bashir won in 2010 were marred by opposition boycotts, and monitors said the ballot failed to meet international standards.

"We are announcing the timetable for 2015 elections because it is a constitutional and legal commitment," Mukhtar al-Assam, chief of the National Election Commission, told reporters.

He said voting will take place on April 2.

Candidate nominations are to open on December 31, followed by campaigning from February 13 to March 30.

Assam's announcement came a day after a leading opposition party, Reform Now, and several small parties said they were "not committed" to the polls.

Any vote must form part of a national political dialogue which Bashir announced in January to discuss multiple crises in the impoverished, war-ravaged nation, they said.

After preliminary talks with Bashir, Reform Now and the other parties say discussions can only continue if the proposed elections are covered.

The group also wants a two-year "transitional administration" to implement the outcome of the dialogue.

The government had hinted at greater political liberties as part of a reaching out to other political parties.

But the arrest of political figures and continued press censorship have raised doubts over the regime's commitment to change.

"We want to conduct a transparent and fair election," Assam said, adding that local or foreign monitors will be welcome.

The Citizen newspaper has warned in an editorial that the ruling National Congress Party "apparently hasn't learned the lessons of the past" and was once again organising "unilateral" elections.

With government and rebel forces fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, unrest in the western Darfur region, and a deteriorating economy, the context is completely different from 2010, the newspaper said.

"Such elections will do nothing else than complicate the crisis of Sudan," it said.

The elections have a budget of $86 million, Jalal Mohammed Ahmed, the election commission general secretary, told AFP.

More than 40 percent of the last electoral budget was funded by the international community, his colleague Assam added, "but we are not expecting donations like what we received in 2010."

Sudan's last elections were held under a 2005 internationally-backed peace agreement that ended a 22-year civil war and led to South Sudan's independence three years ago.

Even though state governors were elected in 2010, they have since been dismissed and others named by the Khartoum government.

 

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Summary

Sudan is to go ahead with general elections in April, the agency in charge of the ballot confirmed Wednesday, despite opposition concerns that the vote is being imposed.

It is still unclear whether President Omar al-Bashir will stand for re-election, 25 years after he seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.

The vote for president, national and state legislators and for governors will be only the second since the coup.

Elections which Bashir won in 2010 were marred by opposition boycotts, and monitors said the ballot failed to meet international standards.

After preliminary talks with Bashir, Reform Now and the other parties say discussions can only continue if the proposed elections are covered.

Sudan's last elections were held under a 2005 internationally-backed peace agreement that ended a 22-year civil war and led to South Sudan's independence three years ago.


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