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.