Sudan: Hanged by the NEC?

A couple of weeks ago a local TV channel showed a ballot for the presidential election and it had the incumbent Omer Al-Bashir at the top of the list. The candidate at the top has a definite advantage when it comes to voters especially new voters and illiterate ones. In all countries, the order of names on the ballot is decided by alphabetical order or a procedure that is neutral and doesn’t give unfair advantage to any one candidate. On 4 March when 23 political parties presented their petition to the National Elections Commission to protest at biased and fraudulent practices in the election, this was on the list of items causing dissatisfaction. The parties demanded a reply within seven days. When they received the response from the Chairman of the NEC they were astonished to read that ‘the NCP candidate’s position on the top of the list was because he was the first person who applied for nomination, according to Article 27 (3-B) of the National Elections Act.’ As it happens there is no Article 27 (3-B)! Article 27 has two subarticles (1) and (2) but there is no (3).

Many political parties were encouraged to believe that the national elections would be free and fair because the person appointed to chair the NEC is a highly respected individual of unquestioned integrity, Mulana Abel Alier. He is also a fine and distinguished lawyer. Today we all suspect that Mulana Abel appends his signature to documents prepared by his office which he has not had the opportunity to peruse in detail.

More serious still is the alarming decision to print the ballots for the presidential and governors elections in Sudan, and not just in Sudan, at the Sudanese Currency Printing Corporation. Originally the NEC had put out tenders for the different ballots and it was agreed, in line with common practice, that the award should go to foreign companies, to minimize the risk of fraud, for example by printing extra ballot papers that can be used to stuff ballot boxes. Four contracts were awarded, two to South African companies, one to a British company and one to a Slovenian company. Suddenly without warning the NEC decided that the Slovenian company couldn’t deliver in time and so the contract should go to the Sudanese Currency printers, even though this is in violation of the cardinal principle of insurance against fraud and the bid was five times as expensive as the Slovenian one! Then the NEC had the audacity to say that the extra expense didn’t matter because the government had offered to pay! To add insult to injury, when the 23 parties’ Memorandum raised this issue, the NEC reply on 10 March justified the choice of the Currency Printing Corporation on the grounds that the company was used to conducting its business ‘in secrecy’! Perhaps the staff of the NEC need some voter’s education on the meaning of a ‘secret ballot’ because it is supposed to mean that every part of the electoral and polling process is totally transparent until the vote itself, and not the other way around.

The elections in Sudan are being strangled by the NEC which is more concerned with being as economical as possible and keeping up pretences that everything is OK when it is obviously failing. The Carter Center is to be applauded for pointing out what is increasingly clear which is that the NEC is not living up to its promise.

The Sudanese parties are frustrated with the defiant and arrogant attitude of the NEC and are losing confidence in whether an election can be free and fair unless the NEC is put under some independent supervision.

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12 thoughts on “Sudan: Hanged by the NEC?

  1. Dear Muawia

    The Memorandum of the 23 political parties to the NEC included a very comprehensive catalogue of legitimate objections to the creation and performance of the NEC. These complaints were drawn up and agreed by the biggest parties in Sudan. At the top of the list was the delay in the formation of NEC which was created in a late and suspicious way its members were chosen without the parties being involved. The NEC budget and its sources of funding are not published and its method of awarding contracts for training, materials printing and so forth are not clear and transparent. It did not publish the final electoral roll and it did not respond to requests for an audit of the electoral registration.

    At every stage of the elections process the NEC was supposed to act in a transparent manner consulting the political parties to create an environment conducive for the election but it has been high-handed. It has not taken the remarks of the political parties seriously, over the neutrality of the organs of state, over the registration of members of the armed forces at their places of work, and over the numbers of polling stations. The NEC circular giving details of the permission needed for political rallies was more restrictive than the law requires and prohibits parties from holding events in their own premises without the go ahead of the authorities 72 hours in advance.

    For the elections to be free and fair the necessary laws need to be changed to allow equitable use of the media, resolution of disputes over the census results and constituency demarcation, the passing of a new security law in conformity with the CPA, the suspension of the state of emergency to enable the electoral process to go ahead in Darfur, and the establishment of a mechanism to ensure that the NEC acts with strict impartiality and in true partnership with all the political parties.

    The parties had been hoping that the African Union Panel would attend to these matters in its planned summit meeting but were disappointed when the Panel did not agree to this. Having a code of conduct without changes in the law does not change anything and President Mbeki was treating the parties in a derogatory way when he informed them on 8 March that they could come to the African Union office and sign the code of conduct anyway without any debate or ceremony, unlike the NCP which was given pride of place in drafting the code and full honours in signing it.

    The international silence over the manipulation of the electoral process, confirms that the UN, AU and US are all ready to turn a blind eye to violations of democratic rights.

  2. Dear Muawia

    I agree with all your points and add the following to them:

    1- There is one main issues which will be the main factors to determine the outcome of the coming election if we assume that it is going to be free and fair and no one is questioning the integrity and creditability of the NEC, which is whether voters know how to vote in one of the most complicated voting system in the world. In the north you have to vote 8 times and 12 times in the south. The voters education is suppose to be the responsibility of the NEC but it is doing nothing. One of my friends is running as candidate in the proportional representation seats and he is sure me that he is going to win, as voters assure him that they will vote for him, I asked him whether he shows them how to vote for him he said no, if you want to vote you have to know how to vote.

    2- We are running voters’ education training for trainers, the demand for it is very high and we discovered that no one is doing it now, at the time even the candidates are in need for training.

    3- The other issue is the loopholes in the voting systems which will make it easy to defraud the election, we carried around 3 mock elections and produced a 18 minutes’ education video, we also produced a detailed education manual, but when I looked at the video I managed to list numbers of loopholes which might lead to fraud until now I discovered more that 17 of them.

  3. Dear Muawia,

    To be fair, I think you, or your source just read the number incorrectly. Article 72 (not 27) 3b, does state:

    “the names of the candidates nominated for election in each geographical constituency, in the same order as they appear on the ballot papers, which is based on the order of submission of the nomination applications.”

    Or perhaps the NEC just misread the number when they issued the statement? Either way, this is the law according to the National Elections Act.

    I see your point that the process could be more fair if another method was used for ballot order. But this is not the fault of the NEC because they did not create the National Elections Act.

    Lastly, the UNDP and UNMIS are responsible for distributing the ballots, so your theory about printing extra ballots to stuff the boxes doesn’t really hold up.

  4. This question is addressed to Alex. Ten years ago you were famous as the champion of human rights and we all knew you for your efforts for bringing the NDA parties into the IGAD peace process. Now it seems you are the architect of the AU position rejecting the Juba Alliance parties request for an all-party conference and you are taking the side of the NCP in Sudanese politics.

  5. Dear Omer,

    You flatter me with the suggestion that I am the architect of the work of three former African heads of state. This is not the case. However, I continue to work as an adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan.

    It is a matter of record that I (and other colleagues at Justice Africa, Sudan Human Rights Organization and others) advocated that the NDA, including the Darfurians, should be represented in the IGAD peace talks. The political parties that constituted the NDA, most of which now make up the Juba Alliance are an integral part of Sudan’s political landscape, and they have an intrinsic interest in democratization.

    Another element in our programme at that time was trying to help the civilian parties prepare for the challenges of the transition, including elections, and to shift the focus of human rights and democratic activism from pointing the finger of blame to proactively trying to solve the problems that Sudan, and its democrats, would face during a transition. As the late Abdel Salam Hassan reminded us, the tragedy of Sudan is partly the story of missed opportunities during post-dictatorship transitions. My fear is that, in the pursuit of a perfect election, Sudan’s political parties are in danger of missing the opportunities of an imperfect election, which is nonetheless better than no election at all.

    You may also recall that a year ago, the AU Panel on Darfur was condemned as being an exercise in whitewashing President Bashir and blocking the ICC. When the Panel’s report was published, those critics revised their views. Those who jump to conclusions without complete information may make errors.

    Dear Muawia,

    Let me make a couple of points, one a criticism and the other an endorsement.

    First (following on from Marc’s comment, the NEC seems to have made a typographical error in its response, putting Article 27 when it meant 72. This clause is unusual and is in a section entitled ‘Publication of the list of polling stations, candidates and lists,’ and so might escape a casual reader, but it is in the law nonetheless. The parties might have been more careful on this. Article 72(3) reads:

    Subject to the provisions of sub-section (1), the Commission shall publish, before polling day, a notice in the appropriate possible media or any other reasonable means including:-
    (a) the list of polling centres in each of the geographical constituencies,
    (b) the names of the candidates nominated for election in each geographical constituency, in the same order as they appear on the ballot papers, which is based on the order of submission of the nomination applications.
    (c) The party lists and Women lists for the purposes of proportional representation.

    In passing, this also seems to explain why President Bashir was in a hurry to submit his candidature first. While other candidates were celebrating the fact that they had a higher number of people on the nomination list, Bashir was confident that by getting his name in first to the NEC, he would gain an advantage on the ballot itself.

    The complaint about the printing of ballot papers in the government press seems, however, to be more serious. The reason for printing the ballots abroad is precisely to avoid the potential abuse that can occur if the printing is potentially controlled or influenced by one party. Even if the process is scrupulously honest, it carries the appearance of being open to bias, and so can discredit the legitimacy of the election.

    Dear Safia,

    The issues you raise are a mixture, some of them relating to the process of setting up the NEC itself, some to its activities. I am not in a position to judge them. But they do indicate a breakdown in confidence between the political parties and the NEC, which is serious, and demands a much greater level of consultation and exchange of views.

    Concerning the Electoral Code of Conduct drawn up by the AU Panel in discussions with the political parties, let me make several observations. First, the content of the code was agreed in discussions with the parties including the Juba Alliance parties. The disagreement was not on the content of the Code but on the agenda for the planned Summit Meeting. In fact the Code is considerably more liberal than the law and the circular of the NEC.

    The Code is a purely voluntary mechanism and cannot remedy shortcomings in the laws. The principle behind a code of this kind is that it is a test of the parties’ commitment, and it is better to have one than not have one. Most elections in fraught circumstances, such as post-conflict or post-dictatorship countries, have codes of conduct.

    The key element in the Code is the enforcement mechanism. This consists of Political Parties Councils (the first is due to be set up in Juba in the next few days), supported by a monitoring team from the AU. While the observers teams (from the EU, AU, Carter Center, etc.) will be watching and writing reports, the AU monitoring team is authorized to receive complaints and take action to resolve them. This is the only monitoring team in Sudan and the first time that the AU has taken this step.

    Concerning President Mbeki’s letter to the parties of 8 March, I would point out that Prof. Ibrahim Gandour of the NCP came to the AU Liaison Office and signed the Electoral Code of Conduct without any special ceremony. Prof. Gandour’s signature is number 16 on the list.

    Dear Hafiz,

    A lot of concerns have been raised about the voting procedure itself, including its complexity, how long it will take for voters to fill out the different ballots, and whether this means that voting can be completed in time, and whether there will be opportunities for abuse. It would be excellent for you to describe in more detail Justice Africa’s experience with the mock voting procedure so that voters, parties, observers, monitors and the NEC can be alert to the problems in advance.

  6. Thanks Muawia for your interesting article. I do agree with you on most of the points.

    Dear Gustafson.

    The point of printing extra ballots to stuff the boxes does indeed hold up. No one expects that the NCP will print the extra ballots under the eyes of UNDP or UNIMIS unless they are extremely stupid. If the theory is correct, the NCP can print these ballots any time it want and prepare them for its fraud operation. There are many chances they can either add them or replace the actual boxes at a later stage. That is not a difficult job if your eyes are set on staying in power by any mean. A simple question, where were the UN and International observers and monitors when Hamid Karazai rigged the elections and added 1,319,757 of ballot votes? not only that, he still managed to be a president despite the exposure of the scandal. Is that scenario so difficult for the NCP to replicate?

    The point is absolutely not that the NEC did not create the National Elections Act. Mr. Alier is a lawyer with a well known and respected political history in Sudan, he and the NEC could have easily taken honest stand, exposed the problems of the law and became impartial, rather than taking sides and covering for the NCP.

  7. Dear Alex,

    If imperfect elections are better than no elections at all, then we should only have elections on the expiry of the current Mandate of President Bashir who won in Presidential Elections before, elections that were observed and validated by an Observer Team from the then, Organization of African Unity.

    But I think the issues with this particular elections are more complex, too complex to be ignored because the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    On the technical side of it, look at the ballot paper, and how long did it take a University Student to fill one ballot paper. Now How would that be for the simple illiterate voter in Sudan.

    There is no doubt that the NCP, the Government of the day, did its homework and was preparing for this elections, and without any attempt to accuse or cast doubts,the NCP saw to it that the arrangements for this elections would favour it, from the distribution of the constituencies to the design of the ballot papers, but still it remains to be seen what the voters would say.
    The real, problem in my humble view is, not simply the technical aspects, or how the ballot papers are printed. There are currently more serious issues that should have been dealt with before we go ahead with this elections.

    And i regret to say that, we are repeating the mistakes of the past, if we think that issues that demand national consensus, could be left for the those who the ballot box will bring.

    How can we have elections in Dar Fur? Elections are being delayed in the Gezira and South Kordofan?

    Parties in South Sudan are complaining of restrictive practices.
    All these and other issues, even the partner of the NCP, the SPLM/A is willing to delay the elections, though one wonders, if the SPLM/A is willing to delay the elections, would that not entail changes in the deadlines for the referendum? Is the SPLM/A being sincere here or not?

    Marc says the UNDP and UNMIS will distribute the papers or whatever logistics, yet the Carter Centre is calling for a delay.

    Only the NCP is insisting on faithfulness to the deadlines of the CPA, as if the CPA were signed yesterday. What should have been done in 2008 was only finished 2010.

    If to-day some 17 or 18 parties call for a delay, we have to pause and ask why?

    Should we go ahead with this elections, because elections are better than no elections? Should we go ahead with elections that are largely meant to promote the purposes of the parties of the CPA?

    Delaying the elections, however, can only be rational, if it is meant for efforts to sort out the pending burning issues that have a bearing on the destiny of the very Sudan.

  8. Today’s Memorandum by the political parties (excepting the SPLM and PCP) demands a postponement of the elections until November. Most of the parties had wanted this all along because they are not ready for elections, and the mistakes of the NEC are their pretext for demanding this postponement. The example of Article 27/72 shows this. Either the parties really had not read or understood the law and were simply outsmarted by the NCP. Or they were raising a frivolous complaint (along with some genuine complaints) in order to generate more momentum for a postponement or boycott.

    The problem with these parties is that they believe that power should fall automatically into their hands if there is a vote, which is what used to happen in Sudan. They did not need to campaign at all because the voters came to them from an established sense of loyalty. The main reason why the NCP has been in power all these years and is going to stay in power after this election (and it will not make the slightest difference if it is held in November or in 2011 or 2015) is that the ‘democratic’ opposition is too lazy and disorganized to pose a serious challenge.

  9. Dear Alex, thank you for your reply. The initiative for the Code of Conduct is a good one (and in line with the demand of the opposition parties and especially the Umma Party). The objection is that the code can only serve its function if the political deadlock is broken. The parties can accept 25% fraud but no-one can accept 75% fraud and in the last four months we have discovered, with each passing week, another layer of deception and fraud by the NCP. What is needed today is a political summit to lay the basic principles for an election and not a code to dampen down the level of fraud and sweeten the poison.

  10. Dear David and Omer,

    I think the last comment, by Omer, goes to the heart of the matter. An election with 25% manipulation is ‘imperfect’, though as we know well, even a much smaller element of fraud can swing the result one way or the other. (Remember the tiny margin of votes in Florida that determined the 2000 US presidential elections.) But if 75% is determined by rigging or other forms of interference in the democratic process, that no longer counts as an ‘imperfection’ and is much more serious, demanding measures stronger than a code of conduct.

    A small but important point is that the Carter Center is raising the possibility of a small (1-2 week) delay on account of the logistical challenges of holding the election, especially in southern Sudan, while the 17 political parties are calling for a seven month delay, on the basis of much more serious allegations of political shortcomings.

  11. Dear Ahmed,

    I’m not sure if your example of Afghanistan’s recent ballot-stuffing is an appropriate comparison. All of Afghanistan’s ballots were printed in London, shipped and paid for by the UNDP, yet there were still major discrepancies with the count. Perhaps the problem does not stem from where the ballots are printed as much as it does from how the distribution is monitored by the UN.

    That said, it is unclear whether or not the UN will be able to monitor the entire distribution of ballots in Sudan. Perhaps more ballots could be printed and shipped to locations not monitored by the UN? For example, I know that the latest ballot shipments to arrive in Juba were received by SHEC members, instead of by the UN directly.

    In other words, without knowing exactly how the distribution will be monitored, I was probably too quick to dismiss Muawia’s concerns about printing the ballots in Sudan. Additionally, Alex’s comment about the “appearance” of bias is also an important one.

  12. Dear All,

    The real question to address is why should elections be delayed or postponed?

    If it is simply the technical and logistic considerations, then may be we can go along with the 25% or 75%, irregularities that may and indeed must happen in cases like this.

    The NCP has ruled for 21years and no doubt the people of the Sudan have had enough time to know enough, after all the over-confidence of the NCP could very well fizzle.

    But the delay in elections is required because of more substantial and substantive issue relating to the existence of the very state of Sudan.

    If those who want the delay are really serious about these issues,then why not delay?

    There are some who link the elections to the referendum, and for them, the elections, perfect or imperfect, are necessary, so as not to delay the referendum which, according to them must lead to the secession of the South. As if to delay the referendum, means, by definition a vote for unity, which they seem not to like.

    Well they are also wrong, delaying the elections and the referendum is dictated more by the need to solve all the issues that may in the future lead to a worse crisis, a crisis that should not disturb the people of the Sudan but the whole region.

    It is these concerns that I would appeal to you to debate.

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