Why is the National Congress Party so Keen for Elections?
The Sudanese National Congress Party (NCP), the main partner in the Government of National Unity (GoNU) is very keen for concluding the national elections early in the year 2009 utilising the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed with the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 2005. In an interview with the British Channel 4 News TV shown on 9 October 2008, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir said that he expects to collect over 50% of votes of Darfurians in the coming elections in 2009 or else he “˜doesn’t deserve to rule the country’. He further continued to say that; “˜the Sudanese people will decide if we are really criminals or if we are the leaders who would govern them in the future’. His statement clearly links the results of the coming elections to the impending warrant arrest sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo against him. Al-Bashir is very keen for the elections and seeks re-election for both legitimacy as well as a weapon against the ICC and Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo, to demonstrate that he has the support of all Sudanese, Darfurians included. These reasons alone entail the NCP to mobilise all the power and machineries of the state at its disposal to secure winning the elections in 2009 at all costs.
The NCP will also take this opportunity to call for foreign support especially from among the Arab and Muslim countries, non-aligned states and some of the African and East Asian countries sympathetic to its cause against the ICC. Since the NCP is well known for its mastery of rigging elections all through the last two decades, it will spare no effort to insure favourable outcome irrespective of voting.
The fifth population census carried out in Sudan in the period 15-30 April 2008 was not inclusive of Darfur, some parts of Kordofan and the South and the estimate of Darfurians have not been available yet. While we believe that the census is not essential requirement for the elections we are in the view that it provides confidence in the intent for the transparency of the electoral system. It will also answer questions about how Al-Bashir came to calculate his 50% of the Darfurian population and explains his confidence of winning the elections! Perhaps what Al-Bashir meant by Darfurians is the Arab demographic assets he has built in Darfur by expelling and removing the indigenous Darfurians and replacing them with Arabs from Chad, Niger, Mali, North and West Africa to be future voters for him. The way the census was conducted and the lack of providing answers to issues considered vital such as religion and ethnicity has been criticised by almost all Sudanese opposition parties and mainly the SPLM.
While the NCP recognises that only free, fair and transparent elections in 2009 will preserve the unity of Sudan and its democratic transformation, it continues to pursue a path that would eventually result in separation of the south from the rest of Sudan. The NCP is not interested in the vision of the New Sudan embodied in the provisions of the CPA of 2005 that paves the way for implementation of steps to make unity attractive to those who will vote in the referendum of 2011. It must be clearly understood that the South will remain in a united Sudan when its people genuinely feel they are real citizens with equal rights and the hegemony of northerners has disappeared once and for all. The SPLM is overwhelmingly of the view that NCP has chosen willingly not to pursue the path for the New Sudan on wide range of issues especially those related to the coming elections in 2009. The fear that unfair elections won by NCP will ultimately lead to emergence of obstacles to the implementations of CPA and paves ground for abolishing the referendum remains possible and guarantees separation of the South. The NCP has deliberately continued to delay procedures required to insure fair elections such as defining North/South borders and the Abyei protocol. Some authorities argue that the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Government of National Unity in which the SPLM is a partner. It should be known that the NCP holds the lion’s share of power and wealth in the government and is ready to use its mechanical majority to obstruct issues at parliamentary and decision-making levels. Withholding funds for the committees concerned remains part of the NCP tactics in that endeavour.
Delaying tactics remain very clear in the procedures for selection of the National Elections Commission (NEC) that was finally enacted on 8 July 2008 and the names of its members are still pending. Even if the commissioners are appointed, major obstacles will face them such as lack of available budget to employ and train them properly to be on track for overseeing all aspects needed for the expected elections in less than a year’s time. These delaying tactics are early signs visible and properly understood by all opposition parties except the NCP that holds massive financial reserves extorted from the state and used for its propaganda apparatus while withholding assets for opposition parties including the SPLM. It thus leaves the oppositions with difficult situation, if they reject the elections they will be seen as obstructionists and if they contribute they insure the winning of NCP. The biggest dilemma is that the NCP will use the results of the coming elections as means of political legitimacy for holding power and tool against the ICC.
While we believe in free, fair and transparent elections we acknowledge the challenges that the NCP has designed by creating difficulties for others to contest in the elections of 2009. It is still up to the opposition parties to come up with solutions and ways out from the impasse and overcome the realities of those obstacles. All opposition parties including SPLM have no options other than contesting the coming elections no matter the difficulties the NCP makes for the process. Leaving a vacuum will only play into the hands of the NCP and delay the process of democratic transformation of governance in Sudan. It is however, very important that preparations should start right now and without delay.
The Darfur problem is a painful reminder of instability in reaching a consensus regarding the elections. The traditional sectarian parties see lost opportunities if Darfur is not included in the coming elections while the NCP benefits enormously as a result of its exclusion as we pointed earlier. There are strong indications that elections could still be held in Darfur for the national posts mainly for the presidency but deferred at local levels where voter presence in a constituency is a prerequisite. Since the Darfur crisis causes huge problems of voter presence in their constituencies it will be acceptable to the international community and the SPLM to defer the local elections in the region while concentrating on the national vote in the internally displaced and the refugee camps. As security poses major threats in those places, Al-Bashir guarantees to win at this level where the atmosphere is conducive for rigging and where he takes comfort that the displaced are non-Arabs whose exclusion poses no threat to him.
Millions of Sudanese in the Diaspora together with refugees constitute substantive constituencies that the NCP will not be keen to agree to participate in the elections and has already secured provisions in the election laws that do not allow for their participations. Partners to the GNU should struggle hard to insure that all Sudanese nationals irrespective of their residence have the right to vote in the coming elections.
Obstacles related to infrastructure such as poor roads and absence of transport in heavy rainy seasons especially in the marginalised regions should be overcome by preparations and provisions of alternatives well in advance and adopt local procedures by seeking help from the international community that has experience in such situations.
While widely extended illiteracy among the marginalised constitutes an obstacle in understanding electoral procedures, it is left for opposition parties to assure simplification of the process and making the ballot cards easy for them to understand and participate. Those latter obstacles may be considered to affect government and oppositions equally but in reality affect the opposition parties mostly because the majorities affected are among the marginalised communities.
Election laws need revision and improvement to curtail the NCP abuse of state assets for its campaign. The media is under the control of the NCP and free campaign will be very difficult in the absence of equal access to state media such as the national TV. As far as foreign donations are concerned the NCP is able to manipulate and attract a lot of money for its campaign and bribes. It is here that the election laws should be tightened and all loopholes closed.
It should be understood that the elections are realities the NCP is relying upon for control and monopoly of power and wealth and security against the ICC. This should not deter the opposition parties and mainly the SPLM to do its homework and wait for the best. It is pointless to accept the fact that NCP will rig the elections and do nothing about it. All must work hard to make it difficult for the NCP to win.
Dr. El-Tahir Adam El-Faki is Speaker for the Legislative Council of JEM.