A Catholic bishop in Khartoum has warned that allegations of foul play in Sudan’s elections may trigger a major political dispute amid growing concerns that the vote could block the country’s path to democracy.
Referring to ongoing reports of alleged electoral malpractice and incompetence as well as the last minute withdrawal of parties and candidates, Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur said there was a danger of people losing confidence in the political process.
Bishop Adwok stressed increasing alarm over unconfirmed reports from many parts of the country of poor organization of electoral registers and polling stations, as well as intimidation of voters and other irregularities, including vote-rigging by the National Congress Party, the ruling party of the national government in Khartoum.
Speaking from Sudan’s national capital in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Auxiliary Bishop of Khartoum said, “The reports of irregularities make one wonder whether in the end these elections will qualify to be called ‘free and fair.’”
Polling got underway on Sunday (April 11th) in the first nationwide election held in Sudan since 1986, which is seen as a crucial precursor to next January’s all-important referendum in which southerners will decide either to remain part of a united Sudan or create a new country of their own.
Noting the voting extensions which will delay the final results until next week, Bishop Adwok expressed grave concerns that the election would not live up to the recommendations for the country’s political development set out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Ending more than 20 years of civil war, the January 2005 CPA agreed a temporary power-sharing deal between the Khartoum-based Islamic government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement in the south.
Stressing the importance of elections as part of a process towards potential cessation of South Sudan from the north, Bishop Adwok said, “It is only right to ask whether these elections can really bring the people the democratic transformation the CPA had promised.”
The auxiliary bishop, who is based in the pastoral region of Kosti, a town 100 miles south of the capital, said, “When the election results come out, it is quite possible that there will be some tension and indeed confrontation between the contesting parties. The electoral fairness will certainly be brought into question.”
Stressing that the withdrawal of candidates had been a huge setback to many voters, he added, “For us here in the north, it seems there has been a lack of candidates willing to promote a vision of Sudan which is multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious as the interim constitution states.”
“People want unity in diversity,” he added.
He said many people were dismayed that the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] had withdrawn their candidacy in the north of the country.
He added, “After the SPLM pulled out, people in Kosti – including Christians – have been asking ‘What should we do?’”
The bishop stressed that, despite the setbacks, the people were determined to vote. He said, “The attitude of the people is really a clear sign that they wanted these elections.
“They want real democratic transformation to take place. This comes after years of military dictatorship for the North.”
“For the South, they want the freedom to decide their destiny in the forthcoming referendum elections in 2011.”
Despite concerns of a major political fall-out following the elections, Bishop Adwok made clear that he felt a return to conflict was unlikely, at least for the time being, saying that the big test would come next January with the referendum which could lead to cessation of the south.
Bishop Adwok said, “This election is a trial ahead of the referendum. It will enable us to see for ourselves the performance of those candidates who are elected in the run up to next January.”