Sudan: First election in almost 10 years

Angus Ried Global Monitor
Election Date: April 5, 2010

At stake: President, National Assembly

Background

The largest country in Africa and the Arab world, Sudan is one of the poorest nations in the globe. This despite the fact that its economy is also one of the fastest growing thanks to mineral and oil resources.

Sudan has been ravaged by civil war. The first conflict erupted in 1955 between residents of the northern and southern regions, just before Sudan gained independence from Egypt. A second civil war began in 1983, as southerners rebelled against the imposition of Islamic Sharia law for everyone—including the Christian and Animist south.

In 1989, Omar al-Bashir seized power in a bloodless coup. Al-Bashir quickly became a dictator. He suspended political parties, maintained the enforcement of Sharia law across the entire country, and launched a military campaign to control the south.

Sunni Muslims account for most of Sudan’s population. Muslims are predominantly in the north of the country. They constantly clash with the south, which has a higher proportion of Christians and Animists.

In 1993, al-Bashir declared himself president of Sudan.

In 2005, the country enacted a new Constitution. The document included a promise of greater autonomy for the south for six years and a referendum on independence in 2011. The pact followed years of talks with south-based rebel forces that have consistently fought power established in Khartoum, the capital.

Over two million people have died in Sudan since 1983. Sudan has been deemed a state sponsor of terrorism, a dictatorship and a genocidal regime. The country has been subject to United Nations (UN) sanctions since 1995.

Al-Bashir and his country are most infamous for the current genocide occurring in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Since 2003, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people—most of whom are black Muslims—have died in clashes between several armed groups, including Arab militias hired by the government known as the Janjaweed. Over one million people in Darfur have been displaced as a direct result from this conflict. Rape as a weapon of war is said to be widely used in Darfur.

Since 2005, the UN has been able to offer limited humanitarian assistance to the terrorized population of Darfur. Al-Bashir has been chided for years for delaying the entrance of UN personnel into the war-ravaged zone to assist the small African Union (AU) contingent that has been authorized to be there.

For over a decade, Sudan has also been the target of allegations that it condones slavery. Reports of black men from the south being enslaved by the Arabs from the north are common.

On Mar. 4, 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir for crimes against humanity. Prosecutors with the ICC claimed that the Sudanese president “masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part” three tribal groups in Darfur solely on the basis of their ethnicity. This is the first time a serving head of state is indicted by the ICC. Both the AU and the Arab League condemned the arrest warrant against al-Bashir.

The ICC has also indicted Ahmad Harun, Sudan’s deputy minister for humanitarian affairs, and Ali Kosheib, a Janjaweed leader, with mass murder and rape. Sudan’s government has refused to hand them over to the ICC.

Al-Bashir has remained defiant of international criticism, appointing well-known Janjaweed leaders to government positions as recently as 2008.

Sudan’s conflict is a concern for the stability of north-east Africa. Violence and refugees have spilled over to neighbouring Chad. It has been reported that the government of Chad is now backing some of the militias in Darfur to fight against Khartoum-backed forces. The Central African Republic is also suffering the consequences of the conflict in Sudan.

The People’s Republic of China and Japan are Sudan’s largest trading partners. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has been a major obstacle for imposing tougher sanctions on Sudan and for moving forward with proposed “humanitarian interventions.” China has repeatedly stated that any action against al-Bashir or his government would violate Sudan’s sovereignty.

2010 President, National Assembly Election

The upcoming election will be Sudan’s first multi-party exercise in 24 years. The legislative and presidential ballot is the result of a commitment made by the government in 2005, when it enacted a new Constitution after signing a peace agreement with the rebel south.

In 2008, a controversial census calculated that about 38 million people live in Sudan. Some regions have contested the results, saying that they have more residents than the census states. Residents in the south have threatened to boycott the ballot if the census results are not revised.

It is still unclear whether Sudan’s Darfur region, home to more than a million internally displaced people, will participate in the election due to the ongoing conflict.

Incumbent president Omar al-Bashir is running for re-election representing the National Congress Party (NCP).

Yasir Arman, a secular Muslim, is the presidential candidate for the Liberation Movement (SPLM), the political arm of the southern rebels. Sadiq al-Mahdi, who served twice as prime minister, is running with the Umma Party. His cousin, Mubarak al-Mahdi, is the candidate for a splinter group called the Umma Reform and Renewal Party. Mohammed Ibrahim Nugud is representing the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).

Other candidates include the only woman, Fatima Abdel Mahmood of the Socialist Democratic Union (SSU)—the only woman in the race—and Munir Sheik Al-Deen from the New National Democratic Party (DUP).

In February 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was ordered to review evidence to determine if al-Bashir should be tried for genocide. The court had previously said the president could not face trial for that charge but this decision was appealed.

On Feb. 15, Arman launched his campaign, saying, “Those who do not provide the opportunity within their party to choose a new candidate to replace twenty years of one individual’s rule cannot allow the people of Sudan freedom of choice, and the people of Sudan must only rely on themselves and turn the elections battle to a democratic, inclusive public battle for a change to new hope and a new Sudan.”

Arman is seen as one of the strongest contenders in the presidential race.

For his part, al-Bashir launched his own campaign mocking accusations against him, saying, “Where is the ethnic cleansing? Where is the genocide?” and adding, “No one forced these elections on us. (…) We want fair elections, we want clean elections.”

Political Players

President: Omar al-Bashir (NCP)
Vice-president: Salva Kiir Mayardit (SPLM)
Vice-president: Ali Osman Taha (NCP)

Legislative Branch: Following the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Sudan has a bi-cameral legislature. The National Assembly (Majlis Watani) has 450 appointed members who represent the government, former rebels, and other opposition political parties. The Council of States (Majlis Welayat) has 50 members who are indirectly elected by state legislatures.

Results of Last Election:

President – Dec. 11 to Dec. 20, 2000

Vote%
Omar al-Bashir – National Congress Party 86.5%
Gaafar Nimeiry – Alliance of the Peoples’ Working Forces 9.6%
Malik Hussain – Independent 1.6%
Samuel Hussein Osman Mansour – Liberal Democrats 1.0%
Mahmoud Ahmed Juna – Independent 1.0%

National Assembly – Dec. 11 to Dec. 20, 2000

Seats
National Congress Party (NCP) 355
Non-partisans 5