Sudanese Elections: A Real Electoral Contest
Sudan’s election is for real. The SPLM candidate, Yasir Arman, has set his sights on the Republican Palace. Sadiq al Mahdi has now also put forward his candidature. There is a growing chance that the presidential election will go to a second, run-off round, with an opposition candidate contesting against President Omar al Bashir.
The CPA was designed with the spirit that the two parties, NCP and SPLM, would enter the election in a partnership. The election was intended as an affirmation of the CPA and its promise of making unity attractive, and a mechanism for expanding the political base of the Government of National Unity. The dispersal of powers throughout the different layers of government and the institution of the collegial presidency were constructed to create incentives for cooperation. Political competition was not seen as a high intensity affair.
Instead, the election is becoming a real contest for power. There is no gentleman’s agreement between the NCP and SPLM over who will win any particular post. It is moving towards a winner-take-all political competition.
The half-heartedness of the SPLM and other opposition groups over participation in the census and other steps running up to the election, is looking like a blunder on their part. Boycotting elections, even if they are imperfect, rarely succeeds. A party that organizes a partial boycott while also putting forward its own candidate is simply weakening its chances of success, both in terms of winning votes and also in mounting a challenge to the legitimacy of the process.
The opposition has many legitimate concerns over whether the elections will be free, fair and inclusive. The security laws passed by the NCP majority in the National Assembly can be used to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of association. It’s unlikely that opposition calls for them to be frozen, or for the state of emergency in Darfur to be lifted, will be heeded. The government sees too many real security threats, unrelated to the election, for that to be likely. The best we can hope for is that these measures are not used to repress or restrict the civil opposition during the campaign. The NCP has a poor record on living up to its promises on this score, so it will need to be particularly accommodating to the opposition in the coming weeks.
Until a few days ago, there seemed to be a real chance that a political deal would be reached, granting the south extra seats in the National Assembly, to compensate for southern objections over the census. That deal might have opened the door to similar accommodations in South Kordofan and Darfur. That option is closed. Both the principal parties are in unforgiving mood. Neither trusts the other, and neither is ready to give a concession to the other without a reciprocal gesture. In the shadow of the referendum a year hence, each party is making its zero sum calculations.
It is likely that all other political business will be set aside until the elections are over and a new government is formed. That won’t necessarily be a Government of National Unity that resembles the outgoing one.
It is going to be a hard-fought campaign.