Sudan gears up for election day

2010-04-10 09:58

Sudan geared up on Saturday for its first multi-party elections in

24 years, with a 16 million-strong electorate eligible to vote for president,

members of parliament and local representatives.

President Omar al-Beshir, who staged a marathon well-organised

campaign that took him to all corners of the country, is set later in the day to

meet former US president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre is monitoring the

elections.

Carter said on Friday that he expected polling to proceed without

major hurdles, although some delays could be expected in more remote areas: “We

see no reasons for any concern except on a few isolated stations way out.”

Voting materials “may get there a bit late, but they will have

three days at least in which to vote,” he told reporters in the capital.

One-man show

In the run-up to the elections, opposition parties accused Beshir’s

ruling National Congress Party of fraud. A Slovenian company was to have printed

the presidential ballot papers, but the national election commission gave the

contract instead to a state-owned printer, causing fury among the opposition who

said this would allow ballot stuffing.

Security forces deployed in strength ahead of the country’s first

multi-party election since 1986, as did international peacekeepers in both the

war-torn western region of Darfur and in the south.

More than 100?000 police officers will be on duty over the election

period, a security official said, as embassies in Khartoum advised their

nationals to adopt “precautionary measures” such as stocking up on food and

fuel.

The credibility of the April 11-13 elections has been dented by a

growing opposition boycott. Former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who won

Sudan’s last multi-party elections, has pulled out of the presidential

race.

The southern former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)

said it was withdrawing not only from the presidential vote but also from

parliamentary and local elections in all northern areas except disputed

districts of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

The SPLM presidential candidate, Yasser Arman, who had been

considered Beshir’s main challenger, has characterised the vote as nothing more

than a one-man show for Beshir.

His withdrawal, and that of ex-premier Mahdi, have cleared the way

for Beshir who looks sure to be re-elected. Southern Sudanese will also vote for

the president of the semi-autonomous south.

The SPLM is still campaigning strongly to head the regional

government that will rule the impoverished south until a promised referendum on

independence next year.

Beshir acknowledged on Friday that 30% of southerners want to break

away but he said 30% wanted to remain part of Sudan.

In a television interview with the private Al-Shorooq channel, he

vowed that he would do all he could to win over the 40 percent he said were

undecided.

The veteran president, who seized power in 1989 after a coup

overthrew the last elected government, has been keen to use this weekend’s

ballot to reassert his authority after the International Criminal Court issued

an arrest warrant against him for war crimes and crimes against humanity in

Darfur.



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