What Went on in Sudan: Between 11 and 15 April, Sudan Held Its First Democratic Elections in 24 Years, Amidst Allegations of Fraud and Rigging. Western Election Observers Ridiculed the Results, but the African Union Said They Reflected the Will of the People. Granfadaa Ayitomeka Was in Sudan to Cover the Elections and Sent Us This Report

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IT IS NORMAL WITH THE GAME OF football to have extra time to break deadlocks. This principle of extra time was adopted in the recent electoral contest in Africa's largest nation, Sudan, where the official three days of polling were not enough and an extra-time period of two days was needed to enable the referee, the National Elections Commission (NEC), to decide the winner.

Sudan, a nation with a population of 40 million (2008 census), experienced a protracted fratricidal war between the North and South, which lasted for 22 years.

The cessation of the armed conflict between the government and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) led to a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ushered the SPLA into the Government of National Unity (GoNU), where they received 40% of government posts. The National Congress Party of President Omar al Bashir holds 52% of government posts, and the rest are held by the smaller parties in the country.

The April elections formed part of the CPA settlement, which stipulated the holding of general elections including the three levels of legislative elections (National Assembly, South Sudan Legislative Assembly and States Legislative Assemblies) to strengthen the country's democratic transformation and to put in place a responsible national government that would oversee a referendum next year, on unity or independence for the South.

Sudan has 72 registered political parties and 16.4 million registered voters. Prior to the elections, the opposition parties had raised concerns about the fairness and transparency of the process. They accused President Bashir of exploiting "incumbency advantage" in his campaign.

Interestingly, however, a week to the elections, the opposition demanded a limit to the expenditure of political parties. This was a request considered by poll watchers to have come "too late", but the head of the NEC, Abel Alier, responded quickly by asking the presidential contenders not to spend beyond 17 million Sudanese pounds (SDP), and those contesting legislative elections, 7 million SDP.

This and other complaints by the opposition led to a theatrical exit, reminiscent of the Zimbabwe opposition leader's withdrawal from the 2008 elections at the eleventh hour.

Their withdrawal was technically flawed as the timing fell short of the two months' notice before the elections demanded by the rules. The four main parties that pulled out (SPLM, Umma Party, Sudan Communist Party, and Umma Reform and Renewal Party) have since constituted themselves into a loose body called the Juba Alliance Parties.

The chairman of the NEC stated at a press conference that the parties pulling out was "unconstitutional--it did not fall within the stipulated time". So, technically, the Juba Alliance Parties were involved in the race.

The former US president, Jimmy Carter, who led the Carter Centre observer team, chided the opposition's withdrawal: "They have failed to develop their bases, which has resulted in the poor showing" Carter said.

The withdrawal was also a concern to the African Union: "The boycott by some parties was not helpful ... since it fell short of the legal [requirement]," the AU said.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As if it was the moment they were waiting for, expectant voters swarmed the electoral centres way ahead of the arrival of voting materials and electoral officials. The over-enthusiastic response was understandable; because for close to a quarter of a century, they had lived with the chimera of participating in sham "democratic" elections.

However, the April elections were fraught with difficulties, at the core of which were logistical constraints. The vastness of the country, coupled with its limited resources, meant that some areas did not get voting materials on time, and aeroplanes had to be used to airlift voting personnel and materials to remote districts. …