Sudan’s Census and the National Assembly Elections
When Sudan’s fifth population census was recently completed, many Sudanese citizens rejected the results, arguing that the population of Southern Sudan was significantly higher than the census showed. One of the worries is that southern states will be given fewer seats in the National Assembly, because most of the seats are allocated according to population size. For this post, I have used the census data to calculate the distribution of the National Assembly seats in order to highlight potential election problems in the coming months.
How the Seats will be Allocated:
The National Assembly has 450 seats. Sixty percent of the seats will be divided to represent geographical constituencies. This means that 270 seats will be allocated according to the population of each state. The formula for determining how the seats will be distributed is as follows:
1. Calculate the national dividend:
Divide the total population of Sudan by the number of seats to be filled.
Population (39,154,490) / Number of Seats (270) = Dividend 145,017
2. Calculate the number of National Assembly constituencies in each state.
Divide the total population of each state by the national dividend.
The other forty percent (or 180 seats) of the National Assembly seats will be allocated according to proportional representation. Twenty-five percent will be chosen from a list of female candidates and 15 percent will be chosen from a list of political party candidates. Therefore, the remaining number of seats will be allocated to states according to which candidates (from the party and women’s list) receive the highest number of votes. To review:
* 60 percent of the candidates will be divided into geographical constituencies
* 25 percent of the candidates will be elected from a list of female candidates
* 15 percent of the candidates will be elected from a list of candidates provided by the party
Room for Manipulation
Once the number of seats has been calculated and distributed geographically to each state, the National Election Committee (NEC) is responsible for drawing the boundaries for each geographical constituency. For example, in Southern Darfur, where 28 seats are being allocated, the NEC is responsible for drawing the borders for all 28 constituencies. Since the population of South Darfur is not evenly distributed throughout the region, the committee must, according to the National Elections Act, use its best judgment to determine where the boundaries will be drawn. The committee is also given 15 percent population leeway when creating the constituencies, meaning that the population of each created constituency cannot be 15 percent greater or less than the median population of all constituencies within each state.
Considering the number of people in Sudan who have been displaced, and the number of IDPs packed tightly into camps, the NEC could draw the borders in such a way as to box in refugee camps, thus maximizing representation for those who have not been displaced.
Additionally, where there are state border disputes still pending, it is possible that the NEC could draw the constituency borders in such a way as to complicate the border debate. In other words, the borders could be altered so that a northern Sudanese state might be less likely to give up territory if it means losing a constituency (or having a constituency altered unfavorably).
According to my calculations, the total number of seats in Southern Sudan is 57, which is 21 percent of the total number of geographically allocated seats. This is an important number because it is currently below the 25 percent threshold (as per the interim constitution) needed to block most legislation in the National Assembly.
However, there are still an additional 180 seats allocated according to the party list and women’s list. Therefore, if the southern Sudanese want to reach the 25 percent threshold, they would have to win 56 more seats, or 31 percent of the remaining votes. Of course, this is assuming that all 57 geographically allocated seats will be won by southern parties.
Currently, under the interim constitution, 34 percent of the National Assembly seats are filled by politicians representing Southern Sudanese parties.
Have the constituency borders been drawn yet?
I contacted UNMIS, the US Special Envoy’s Office, IFES, the Rift Valley Institute and several Carter Center election observers. None of these groups could tell me if a border constituency map had been published (IFES said they could not discuss their efforts in Sudan because of their contract with USAID).
I found a text-only border constituency report here, in Arabic only. It was published a month ago and describes the boundaries according to administrative districts. In other words, it looks as though the NEC used pre-existing administrative districts as a guide to determine where the borders would be drawn.
Given the controversial nature of these borders and the potential for manipulation, it is surprising that few people are aware of how these borders will be drawn.
Will the borders be manipulated?
The answer to this question will depend on the independence and motivations of the National Election Committee (NEC), which is responsible for drawing the new borders. The NEC is composed of nine members selected and appointed by President Omar Al-Bashir, and was selected “taking into consideration inclusiveness of representation.” The committee includes professors, a police general, lawyers, government officials and a banker. There are two women on the committee. You can read their biographies and decide for yourself if you think the committee was fairly chosen.
In regards to the committee’s independence, here is an excerpt from the National Elections Act:
“The Commission shall be financially, administratively, and technically independent, and shall perform its functions and duties independently, impartially and transparently without interference from anybody in its affairs, business or functions, or limitation of its powers.”
The implications of the border constituency report are substantial. The report will lay the groundwork for future elections, complicate the current north-south border debate, have a significant impact on political representation in the National Assembly and perhaps prevent southern parties from having the power to block future legislation. Additionally, the consequences of further delimitation in Darfur, where much of the population has been displaced, could be harmful to both the peace process and the upcoming election. With all of this in mind, it is surprising that the report is not attracting more attention.