Sudanese Elections: A Real Electoral Contest
Sudan’s election is for real. The SPLM candidate, Yasir Arman, has set his sights on the Republican Palace. Sadiq al Mahdi has now also put forward his candidature. There is a growing chance that the presidential election will go to a second, run-off round, with an opposition candidate contesting against President Omar al Bashir.
The CPA was designed with the spirit that the two parties, NCP and SPLM, would enter the election in a partnership. The election was intended as an affirmation of the CPA and its promise of making unity attractive, and a mechanism for expanding the political base of the Government of National Unity. The dispersal of powers throughout the different layers of government and the institution of the collegial presidency were constructed to create incentives for cooperation. Political competition was not seen as a high intensity affair.
Instead, the election is becoming a real contest for power. There is no gentleman’s agreement between the NCP and SPLM over who will win any particular post. It is moving towards a winner-take-all political competition.
The half-heartedness of the SPLM and other opposition groups over participation in the census and other steps running up to the election, is looking like a blunder on their part. Boycotting elections, even if they are imperfect, rarely succeeds. A party that organizes a partial boycott while also putting forward its own candidate is simply weakening its chances of success, both in terms of winning votes and also in mounting a challenge to the legitimacy of the process.
The opposition has many legitimate concerns over whether the elections will be free, fair and inclusive. The security laws passed by the NCP majority in the National Assembly can be used to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of association. It’s unlikely that opposition calls for them to be frozen, or for the state of emergency in Darfur to be lifted, will be heeded. The government sees too many real security threats, unrelated to the election, for that to be likely. The best we can hope for is that these measures are not used to repress or restrict the civil opposition during the campaign. The NCP has a poor record on living up to its promises on this score, so it will need to be particularly accommodating to the opposition in the coming weeks.
Until a few days ago, there seemed to be a real chance that a political deal would be reached, granting the south extra seats in the National Assembly, to compensate for southern objections over the census. That deal might have opened the door to similar accommodations in South Kordofan and Darfur. That option is closed. Both the principal parties are in unforgiving mood. Neither trusts the other, and neither is ready to give a concession to the other without a reciprocal gesture. In the shadow of the referendum a year hence, each party is making its zero sum calculations.
It is likely that all other political business will be set aside until the elections are over and a new government is formed. That won’t necessarily be a Government of National Unity that resembles the outgoing one.
It is going to be a hard-fought campaign.
Isn’t the SPLM’s decision to field Yasir Arman rather than Salva Kiir in effect a gentleman’s agreement not to push the NCP too hard in the north? As far as I know, the NCP hasn’t yet named a candidate to stand against Kiir in the south.
It is apparent that within the circumstances of the status quo in Sudan, the contestants of the NCP in the Presidential Elections has no chance at all to win, yet, the personal ambitions and greed of the opposition leaders are taking the best of their rational judgment as to whether participate or boycott these elections. But again, this is an authentic and inherent characteristic of the Sudanese politics, as self-centered, greedy, and with lots of wish-full thinking.
Omer El-Beshir has completely set the stage for his win in this election by all means, and is leaving nothing for chances. In the face of the threat of the ICC, El-Beshir is prepared to go to the limits to ensure he stays in power. With all the media and the other resources of the country under his control, a potential deal with the DUP to back him up in the elections, with the national security laws, and the recent timely expelling or revoking of the registrations of (26) international aid agencies, that are believed to be lead advocacy, democracy and human right monitors and watchdogs setting their eyes on the coming elections, El-Beshir is well entrenched and prepared to stay in power – till death do part him.
I find it problematic, on the other hand that the CPA is having a built-in assumption and bias for the Unity of Sudan rather than separation of the South as the outcome of the process, and not even giving the two options a 50:50 chance. The 2010 elections are definitely seen, from the eyes of the CPA, as consolidating the Unity of Sudan by allowing both the South and the North to contest for a Presidency, and to form a government of national unity while one year from these elections, a possibility there are going to be two national governments and no unity.
It is with the current status quo and all its strong signals that the secession of the the South is imminent, that I started to find the 2010 elections most disturbing, and I can’t understand actually, why the SPLA is running for presidency (even though their Candidate is from the North), while everyone seems quite confident and sure of the results of the coming referendum of 2011? I canâ€™t help but saying: what a waste! Investing all these efforts on the elections, while the after one year the South will be a new state and the southerners as expatriation and aliens in the State of North Sudan and can no longer hold any positions there?. On the other hand also, Yasir is definitely a good pick for the SPLM leadership, but with the political complexities of the North Sudan, he definitely possesses much less chances for winning this contest against Beshir, and even against the other traditional northern Sudan parties’ leaders.
I am definitely not implying anything with bad intention; I just need help to better understand the underlying reasoning for what seems, to me, to be extremely odd processes and actions.
I disagree. By accepting to contest in these elections, I believe the Juba Alliance is making the biggest mistake ever. I am sorry Alex but we can’t just “hope” that the national security law will not be “used to repress or restrict the civil opposition during the campaign”. The NCP’s previous patterns of action indicate beyond any doubt that it will have no qualms about using its medieval-era law to clamp down on opposition. The harbingers of the failure of those phony elections have already appeared during the voter-registration process. Opposition parties should boycott these elections; otherwise they will be throwing a lifeline to Al-Bashir and his party to legitimize their rogue government.
Dear Ahmed and Muhammed,
Electoral boycotts are a risky strategy. It’s easy to argue for them on principled grounds, on the basis that the elections are going to be rigged, or the incumbent has stacked the cards in his favour. But what is their purpose? They can make a vote inquorate — but this wouldn’t be the case for the April elections in Sudan which will still have a result even if the turnout is low. They can make a symbolic point, which may be short lived. They can galvanize enough international condemnation to compel a government to re-run the election, more fairly this time. (This happened in Albania in 1996-7, combined with anti-government agitation following the rigged and boycotted 1996 elections.) On the other hand, opposition parties can sometimes be surprised by outcomes in their favour (e.g. in Zimbabwe in 2001).
The worst outcome is a partial boycott — when some parties decide to boycott and others don’t, or a party splits on the issue. (The Zimbabwean MDC was seriously weakened by a split on this in 2005.) In the Sudanese case this would seem to be the most probable scenario. The SPLM, as a party to the CPA, has a prima facie commitment to the elections. It had a major hand in drawing up the electoral system. It is also the incumbent in the south. And it cannot derail the electoral process without jeopardizing the referendum. So the SPLM is tied in to some form of participation. Also, there is a lot of international effort in monitoring and observing the elections, so a pre-emptive attempt to delegitimize them will not gain international support, at least at this stage. And, as Ahmed points out, there are enough self-interested politicians who will not boycott as long as there are deals to be cut. So, the most likely outcome of an attempted boycott is to hand victory to the NCP, while generating enough participation across different parties to lend legitimacy to the process.
A agree that we shouldn’t just “hope” that the security laws are not used against the opposition. There are practical things that can and should be done to obtain commitments from the NCP that it should not use the law in this manner. But I fear that a wholesale removal or suspension of the national security law is not in prospect right now.
If the CPA were to be designed from scratch, it is very unlikely that the elections would be scheduled just nine months in advance of the referendum. It creates a situation in which the elected government has almost nothing to do except prepare for the referendum and its aftermath. The original idea, which was that a broad-based government would be a tangible demonstration of the success of the CPA, and therefore of “making unity attractive”, could only work with a dynamic leadership and enough time. The leadership, both north and south, is now in defensive posture and time is short. So it is an unplanned experiment in combining elections with two parties that cannot afford to lose, followed in short order by a referendum that is likely to divide the country.
I believe SPLM’s decision to front Yasir Arman to run against Pres Bashir was a brilliant political move, and the results, whether by default or design, might bode very well for SPLM. I do not think Yasir Arman or SPLM have any illusions that he might win against Bashir. However, he will get a good chunk of votes from northerners who do not particularly like Bashir, but may not feel loyal to other opposition parties in the north. This means NCP’s ambition to sweep the north is not a given. Of course NCP will most likely win in Darfur, thanks to the current state of emergency which will legitimise Khartoum’s expected crack down on opposition voices in the restive region.
I could be wrong, but I think the main reason for SPLM move is to force NCP to either review the census figures, demand a fresh look at the Referendum Bill or simply an increase in representation in the National Assembly. My hunch tells me that in light of this, NCP would be willing to sit with SPLM and strike in return for the latter withdrawing its candidate from the North.
Between the April elections and the 2011 Referendum, which one do you think Al Bashir can’t afford to lose? Definitely it is the elections. Losing elections exposes him to ICC’s arrest, so he has to win the elections at all costs. As for the Referendum, even if the South secedes, he knows very well that South Sudan, at least in the medium term, will need the North for its survival. (a cursory look at trade between the two shows that over 80% of all food stuffs and other critical goods and services to the South come from the North. This is not likely to change drastically even following a secession.) Separation not withstanding, the two former belligerents are stuck to each other, economically!
Which is one of the many reasons I also believe they will not resort to another full scale war like they did previously.
I believe that Josh Kariuki is right on both counts. Yasir Arman will garner a vast protest vote. If he campaigns in Darfur he may also turn out significant votes there, despite the state of emergency. Bashir has the liability of twenty years of incumbency. At the minimum, Yasir and the other contenders are likely to force Bashir into a run-off round.
The NCP is faced with a very tough choice, and is increasingly resigned to the probability that the south will secede — but still remain closely tied to the north, especially economically. What the NCP cannot do is lose executive power in Khartoum. The party could not survive in opposition. And the ICC arrest warrant has ruled out the option of a transfer of leadership within the NCP.
Thank you Josh. I do totally agree with your reflections on the motives and the possible results for Yassir’ candidacy and also on the dynamics for Beshir desperate struggle to remain in power by all means.
With regards to the potential for war, I might disagree though. Within the mentalities of our political leaders in Sudan, war in itself is sometime considered as a way to extend one’s term in power. Both the SPLM and the NCP are threatened by internal elements that are more dangerous than the conflict between north and south.
Thanks for the discussion. Neither of you mentioned the SPLM division with the emergence of the SPLM-DC with Lam Akol running for GoSS presidency and presumably placing candidates throughout the South.
When the NCP asked the SPLM to remove their candidate for the Sudan presidency race after making the announcement that they would not present a NCP candidate for the GoSS presidency, some have suggested that the NCP is actually running a candidate in the South by funding the SPLM-DC. Have you, Alex or anyone else found any evidence that the NCP is indeed funding the SPLM-DC as a divide-and-rule tactic to weaken the election outcome on the SPLM? Lam Akol is no stranger to the NCP and it would not surprise me that his new party would have strong ties with the NCP.
I’d be interested in your opinions. Thank you.
“There are practical things that can and should be done to obtain commitments from the NCP that it should not use the law in this manner”
Alex, today they killed a young Darfuri student affiliated to SLM’s Nur faction in Khartoum and threw his dead body in the Nile after torturing him for three days since he was arrested by NISS members from in front of Khartoum University.
I am 100% sure that no NISS member will ever be held accountable and that the young student blood will be lost in vain. because they are protected under the security law that opposition parties agreed to operate under, a law that does not hold NISS members accountable for their criminal acts.
Nothing can ever be done to obtain NCP commitment. The party and its security apparatus are bereft of any moral sense. I said it before and I am saying it again, National Security law should be fully suspended, otherwise participating in these elections is a crime against humanity.
“If the CPA were to be designed from scratch, it is very unlikely that the elections would be scheduled just nine months in advance of the referendum”. Are you suggesting that it is the fault of the CPA that elections are held nine months before the southern Sudanese go to the polls for the plebiscite?
I believe that according to the CPA, national census, followed by elections had timelines, which sadly were missed, postponed and delayed for all sorts of reasons.
So suggesting that the way the CPA was designed made the elections to take place just nine months before the plebiscite on self determination is inaccurate and misleading, to say the least.
Dear Manoli, the CPA scheduled the elections for the third year of the interim period. April 2010 is the last possible date at which they can be held without a postponement of the referendum, a postponement that required stretching the lifetime of the last National Assembly, and the GoNU as a whole, beyond its constitutionally mandated expiry date of July 2009. You are not reading this posting correctly. The point is that if the likelihood for such a delay had been fully taken into account, the CPA as a whole would have been designed differently.
Let’s assure you that if you make a mistake to cast your huge votes for Bashir rather than Arman. Then you’re no people and that show that you are not proud of being African of south Sudan. With reasonable WE must vote for the SPLM.