The 2010 Sudanese Elections: Landmines on the Road to Democratic Transition
Contributed by Elwathig Kameir with Alex de Waal
In countries emerging from violent conflict, the international community has presented free and fair elections as the mechanism for establishing legitimate and stable government. The assumptions behind this are, first, that a multi-party system allows for citizens’ grievances and aspirations to be expressed through civil representation, thereby precluding resort to violent insurrection, and second, that an elected government is a legitimate one, accepted by all citizens. This was the rationale behind the inclusion of the “˜mid-term’ elections in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), when the text was drawn up in 2004 and signed in 2005, between the Government of the Sudan (GOS), represented by the National Congress Party (NCP), and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A) that ended a 22-year civil war. The vision behind the elections was that they would represent the key step towards the democratic transformation of Sudan.
However, recent experience of post-election violence and discontent with electoral results gives cause for concern. Democratic regimes in poor countries, especially those recently emerged from violent conflict, are not always as stable and legitimate as the theory would suggest. Sudan’s own experience with democratic governance suggests that while an elected government will be better than an autocratic one, it will not be a panacea.
This essay deals with possibilities of a mismanaged democratic transformation in Sudan. This is conditioned by a ruling party, resistant to change and weak opposition political parties and civil society, in a situation in which part of the country (the South) is threatening separation. In addition, the electoral timetable””now set for February 2010″”is overshadowed by the ICC arrest warrant against the President of the Republic and the fact that barely ten months after the scheduled announcement of the results, the exercise in the right of self-determination for Southern Sudan is due to go ahead. In this context, will the elections serve the purpose of democratic transformation, or will they merely be a plebiscite on the rulers of the country?
The CPA: A Roadmap for Democratic Transformation
The “˜mid-term’ elections in Sudan, to be followed by a self-determination referendum for the south, are both key prerequisites of the CPA. The elections, thus, serve as a mechanism for democratic transformation after almost two decades (1989-2005) of monopolizing state power by one party, as well as provide a political space for making unity “˜attractive’ by persuading southerners to vote for unity in the upcoming referendum.
The planned elections will be the most ambitious and complicated in Sudan’s history. Whereas all previous elections have either been on a constituency basis (Westminster model) or a presidential model, the Interim National Constitution (INC) provides for elections for:
* National presidency;
* President of Southern Sudan;
* State Governors;
* The National legislative assembly;
* The legislative assembly of Southern Sudan;
* The legislative assemblies of States.
In addition, some seats in the assemblies will be allocated on a “˜first-past-the-post’ basis, some on the basis of proportional representation, and some for a women’s only list. Thus, voters in Sudan will be casting between nine and thirteen different ballots. Given that many of them have never voted in an election before, the task of voter education will be formidable.
Many technical aspects of Sudan’s electoral history have been summarized in an excellent report by the Rift Valley Institute, part of an ongoing project, available here: sudan-election-history-research-project-interim-report-january-2009.
Under the INC, the elections were scheduled for the fourth year of the interim period, i.e. between July 9, 2008 and July 9, 2009. The National Electoral Commission, chaired by Mulana Abel Alier, has however decided that this schedule is not feasible. Instead, it has decided that elections will be held from February 6-21, 2010, results to be published February 27. The official announcement including the timetable is available here: nec-official-elections-calendar.
The schedule is as follows:
* April 15-May 15, 2009: Demarcation of geographical constituencies
* June 1: Publication
* June 2: beginning of registration
* July 2- August 2: Revision and preparation of register
* August 3-31: First publication of register for appeals and outcome
* September 1: Starting date for nominations
* September 3: Acceptance of nominations at all election levels
* November 6: Last day for nomination applications
* November 7: Publication of lists for appeals
* November 10-27: Final publication
* November 31-February 5: Electoral Campaign
* February 6, 2010: start of polling
* February 21: End of polling
* February 27: Announcement of final results
Landmines on the Way of Fair and Free Elections
Though the elections law has been promulgated (to the distaste of the opposition parties), and the Elections Commission has been formed, an assemblage of landmines, however, seems to have been planted on the road of this transition, the outcome of which could be various forms of violent conflict:
1. The overarching challenge to free and fair elections is that the CPA has turned the parties to it, which had and still have, radically contrasting visions for the country, into ruling partners.
2. Amendment of laws that contravene both the CPA and the INC, is still outstanding, including the formation of the National Human Rights Commission and reform of the national security laws.
3. In addition to the delay in conducting the general population census, the non inclusion of questions related to “˜ethnicity and religion’ into the census questionnaire is a serious concern that will most likely render the census results disputed and unacceptable to many southerners. There are already signals of serious dissension over the outcomes of the census with southerners insisting that the number of southerners has been significantly underestimated.
4. The anticipated conflict over the census results is closely associated with the other equally contentious issue of north-south border demarcation, which also bears on the allocation of electoral geographical constituencies in the two parts of the country.
5. The conflict in Darfur is still raging on, and all the proposed internal and external initiatives have not yet succeeded in bringing the conflicting parties to the negotiation table, let alone reaching a peaceful political settlement.
6. The NCP has complete monopoly over the material, human and institutional resources of the state, particularly the media in its various forms, which jeopardizes the other political forces’ chances of competing on equal footing in the upcoming elections.
7. All the rest of the political forces, including the SPLM, are not yet ready for the exercise of competitive elections, as they suffer from organizational weakness, remoteness from their respective constituencies, lack of resources, and internal divisions and differences.
The fate of the 2010 elections is complicated by the ICC Prosecutor’s warrant of arrest for the President of the Republic. In light of this serious development, a number of scenarios can be contemplated:
1. The “˜Return to the Pure INC’ Scenario
The arrest warrant for the President is suspended through the diplomatic efforts of the AU, Arab countries, Russia and China, in persuading the Security Council to freeze the Court’s procedures for one year (indefinitely renewable), as per Article 16 of its Statute. However, now that the warrant has been issued, suspension will no longer restore the legitimacy of the President and thereby enable the NCP to return to the ideal status quo ante of respecting its obligations under CPA and INC of ensuring a peaceful transition to multi-party democracy, thus reducing the prospect of post-election violence. Only a full revocation of the arrest warrant by the UN Security Council or the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC would be sufficient to achieve this, and that is almost impossible to achieve.
2. The “˜Opti-pessimistic’ Scenario
Under this scenario, the NCP finds a way positively responding to the demands of the international community regarding accountability for crimes committed, thereby allowing the international community to proceed with normalizing its relations with Sudan. By this process, the NCP accepts to create all the necessary conditions for holding free and fair elections to the satisfaction of all political forces, which greatly minimizes the possibility of post-election violence.
3. The “˜Defiance’ Scenario
The NCP continues its defiance to the ICC, by adamantly refusing to deal with the Court or heed the calls of the Security Council and the international community. Under these conditions the NCP leadership redefines the election as a patriotic duty to (re-)elect the President, thereby providing him with sufficient domestic legitimacy to defy the ICC and the UN Security Council. One possible version of this scenario is that the NCP insists on holding the elections without putting in place all the necessary legislation to ensure that it is free and fair, therefore giving an edge to the NCP that already has monopoly on power and wealth, regardless of the above mentioned landmines, thus most probably leading to various forms of violent protests over elections results by the different political forces and alliances, including boycotting participation.
4. The “˜Dissension’ Scenario
In the shadow of the arrest warrant against the President, the NCP continues its defiance to the ICC, forcibly mobilizes its bases of support, and ventures to rally the rest of the political forces around the cause of defending the sovereignty of the country against any foreign aggression. The government continues doing its “˜business as usual,’ and presses ahead with elections on its own terms, having established its electoral alliances. However, in light of the expected regional and international political pressures and threats of economic embargoes, a mounting internal opposition (including violent reaction on the part of the armed factions in Darfur), and a probable crack of the NCP’s unity and coherence of its ranks, a power struggle within the ruling party would simmer and the whole situation might develop in a new direction, thus lending itself to open-ended scenarios in the process of reconstituting the Sudanese State.
The focus on probable post-electoral violence in the case of Sudan should be looked at in the context of the overall transitional arrangements predicated on the CPA and the overall aims of the democratic process. The mid-term elections were designed to achieve the dual goals of civic representation and governmental legitimacy. Under the current circumstances of the ICC arrest warrant, the incomplete implementation of INC provisions for civil and political rights, the ongoing armed conflict in Darfur, and the looming vote on separation for southern Sudan, it seems almost impossible for the elections to achieve those two goals.
In these circumstances, the fear is that the electoral process, instead of cementing a transition to a legitimate, inclusive and representative form of government, becomes simply an exercise in winner-takes-all””with the commensurate risk to the loser, that he loses all. Thus, the mismanagement of the transition to multi-party democracy has a high risk of resulting in various forms of violent conflict, in the best of scenarios, and to the collapse of the Sudanese state, in the worst of scenarios. In addition, this focus must not divert our attention from a further probable time-bomb in the form of violent conflict over the fate of the self-determination referendum, the Abyei referendum, and popular consultations to ascertain the views of the people in the two areas: Southern Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan on the CPA.
Elwathig Kameir is an Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Economic and Social Studies, University of Khartoum. He has had close affiliation with the SPLM and edited and introduced a book on the Vision of the New Sudan.