The results of the state assembly elections raise important questions about Sudan’s electoral process and the strengths and weaknesses of opposition parties in particular regions of the country. To no one’s surprise, NCP and SPLM dominance in the state assembly elections was similar to what it was in the National Assembly elections. In the North, NCP candidates won 91 percent of the state assembly seats, and the SPLM secured 87% of the seats in the South. However, several aberrant victories occurred in certain areas, raising questions about party proxies, traditional party appeal and accusations of systemic fraud.
Some of the more unusual wins occurred in Darfur, where opposition parties had more wins than they did in any other northern state. The Popular Congress Party (PCP) won four seats in South Darfur, which were the party’s only wins in any state assembly. The PCP also won three National Assembly seats in South Darfur and came close to winning the gubernatorial election. Looking more closely, the party accumulated the second highest number of votes in most of the National Assembly races and many of the state assembly races, indicating that its support in South Darfur is not isolated to certain areas. For the proportionally allocated state assembly seats (women’s and party lists), the PCP was able to win 17 percent of the votes from each list in South Darfur.
In West Darfur, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won six seats, which comprises 15 percent of the total. This might be explained by the competitive governor’s race, where DUP candidate and brother of the Masilit Sultan, Asad Abdul Rahman, was competing against the NCP’s Jaafar Hakeem. DUP party agents were dispatched in stations throughout the state and the party actively campaigned to win the gubernatorial seat. In the end, votes were cast along tribal lines, precipitating further DUP engagement and bolstering its chances in some of the state races.
In North Darfur, the SPLM won four seats, in addition to a few close seconds, raising questions about why the SPLM performed well in, of all places, North Darfur? On the other end of the spectrum, the Umma Party, which had at one point considered Darfur one of its regional strongholds, did not win a single seat.
The elections in Blue Nile were the most competitive in the entire country, even if it was a competition between only two parties – the SPLM and the NCP. The SPLM was able to win 18 seats, and the NCP won 29. This election was very competitive because, among other reasons, the state assembly will play a prominent role in the “popular consultation” process, which is an important process delineated in the CPA for implementing arrangements of the peace agreement after the referendum.
Other notable results came from Kassala State, where the Free Lions Party picked up two seats in the western-most region of the state. The Free Lions were established in 1999 by Rashaida Arabs, an ethnic group in eastern Sudan that migrated from Saudi Arabia in the middle of the 19th Century. The group was founded by a former DUP member of parliament, Mabrouk Salim, who left his post to lead an armed rebellion against the government. Unlike the Beja Congress Party (BCP), which has historically been one of the region’s more dominant parties, the Free Lions have been considered a small, but very cohesive armed group with little political influence. This might be changing, however, as the Free Lions Party was able to attract more than twice the number of votes as the BCP. In 2006, the Free Lions and the BCP signed a peace agreement with the government in Khartoum, and Mabrouk Salim was appointed shortly after to be Sudan’s State Minister of Transportation. Most of the Free Lions rebels were disarmed and incorporated into the administrative structure of Kassala State. This has led some to believe that the Free Lions’ performance in the elections is a product of its new and cozy relationship with the government in Khartoum.
There are reasons to think otherwise. The Free Lions Party has been one of the most outspoken parties in its criticism of Bashir’s handling of the elections. Additionally, the National Assembly elections in constituency 9 reveal a more complex story. In the days leading up to the elections, it was clear that the Free Lions candidate, Awad Mubarak Selim, would probably win the elections against the NCP candidate, Ahmed Hamed Birki, who happens to be from the Rashaida tribe as well. The elections were postponed, and shortly after, Selim dropped out of the race, leaving many to believe that he was paid off by the NCP. Two weeks ago, the elections were held and the constituency was clearly divided. In the eastern half of the constituency, many of the polling stations experienced close to an 80 percent turnout with 100 percent of the votes going to the NCP candidate. In the western half of the constituency, most of the polling stations had no one turn up to vote. By the end of the election, it was clear that constituency 9 was sharply divided between NCP supporters and Free Lions supporters who refused to vote, presumably because their candidate had dropped out of the race. Rumors were rife that Selim was given a new car and a plush post in the state’s administrative structure, discouraging supporters from casting their ballots.
The performance of the Free Lions was surprisingly strong in other parts of the state as well. The party received 8.4 percent of the votes for proportionally allocated seats state-wide and a considerably higher number of overall votes than the Beja Congress Party, signaling the BCP’s diminution of power in the region. The DUP, on the other hand, did not win a single parliamentary or state assembly seat, even though Kassala is considered the heartland of the Khatmiya Sufi order (the traditional base of support for the DUP). For Kassala’s gubernatorial race, the DUP, surprisingly, only won 6.5 percent of the votes.
In the South, there were a few unusual wins. The NCP was able to secure a total of 14 seats, six of which came from Unity State. Most of the state assembly competitions in Unity were very close, with four races coming down to less than one hundred votes. Independent candidates were able to win eight seats, giving opposition parties, if you include the NCP as an opposition party in the south, 35 percent of the total. In Upper Nile State, 28 percent of the state assembly seats went to opposition parties, most of which were won by SPLM-DC (Upper Nile is Lam Akol’s home state and support base). Opposition parties also did relatively well in Western Equatoria, where 20 percent of the seats went to independent, SANU and NCP candidates.
While it is clear that the opposition parties had few wins in both the National Assembly and the state assemblies, these wins followed no pattern, demonstrating that the electoral process varied significantly from state to state. In Northern Kordofan and Warrap, for example, the opposition parties did not have a single win. However, in Blue Nile, Unity, Upper Nile, Western Equatoria, and North Darfur, opposition candidates were able to win between 17 and 40 percent of the seats. If there was a plan to manipulate the elections nation-wide, then what explains the PCP’s victories in South Darfur, or the DUP’s relative success in West Darfur? Perhaps Sudan’s system of patronage extends so far as to integrate the less established and maybe less threatening parties, such as the Free Lions Party and the somewhat distant branch of the SPLM in North Darfur? Could this kind of deal-making be controlled centrally? Whatever the answers may be, Sudan’s traditional parties, namely the DUP and Umma Party, now have almost no presence in Sudan’s state and national legislatures, making the recent state-wide popularity of parties like Free Lions in Kassala and the PCP in South Darfur worthy of further discussion.