Sudanese Campaign Diary
Sudan’s election campaign is in full swing, and it is fascinating to watch. Perhaps the most interesting element is that the Sudanese parties are engaging one another head on, and the externals are largely spectators. That’s a welcome change, and Sudanese politics is healthier as a result.
The NCP looks like the dominant party in a dominant party system in northern Sudan. It has more resources, better organization, and better disciplined than the competition. NCP campaign managers are expecting to lose a number of constituencies in their heartland and even some governorships, but their plurality, at least, in the next national assembly seems assured.
Partly this is because of the disarray of the opposition parties. The National Consensus Alliance (“Juba Alliance”) is still debating whether it should be participating in this election at all. These parties’ recurrent threat of a boycott has helped keep the spotlight on the government’s use of the media and (especially) the security laws. The opposition parties have some valid complaints, for example the recent National Election Commission circular that establishes restrictive guidelines on public meetings. (The Electoral Code of Conduct, signed by the parties contesting in southern Sudan, and open for signature by those contesting in the north as well, is much more liberal).
But the opposition’s main impediment is their lack of funds and organization. The premise of a boycott is that it would delegitimize the government internationally. But the Juba Alliance parties would be advised to listen carefully to the international community present in Sudan before making that call.
Omar al Bashir looks comfortable campaigning””perhaps more so than when he is in the palace. Bashir’s campaign launch in southern Sudan was an interesting example of bravura and frankness. His campaign posters showed him twinned with Salva Kiir, with a ribbon linking the two. His message: his party had signed the CPA and intended to honour its commitment. Bashir told rallies that he was a unionist and had fought for unity, but if the south voted for secession, he would be the first to recognize it. I would be unsurprised if Bashir gains a reasonable vote in the south.
The SPLM is facing the travails of a former liberation movement now in power. It hasn’t properly separated political and military functions and personnel and hasn’t internalized the principle of multi-party competition. But, despite some well-publicized differences of opinion among its leaders, the SPLM is making an honest effort at democratization. It allowed Lam Akol to come to Juba for the political parties’ summit last week, and immediately after signing up to the Electoral Code of Conduct, Salva Kiir made his government into a caretaker government, replacing governors who are contesting the elections, at a stroke meeting one of the main points raised by the non-SPLM parties in the south. (A state governor is responsible for security in his/her state, and if he/she is contesting the gubernatorial elections, the temptation for abuse of power is obvious.)
I had expected that political competition would mean that the governments in Khartoum and Juba would pour more and more resources into their “political budgets,” generating tensions, and unsustainable levels of loyalty payments. That may still happen, but at present it is not so evident. Instead, the governing parties’ internal focus is leading to consensus building.
In the south, the SPLM is clearly signaling that electoral competition should not be at the cost of internal divisions that would leave southern Sudan vulnerable ahead of the referendum. And the other parties and independents are heeding the call.
Across Sudan, the NCP is running on the basis of pragmatism, nationalism and economic growth, with a little note of apology tacked on for the war and repression.
More unexpectedly, the SPLM and NCP have been negotiating hard on a host of bilateral issues. The imminence of the election has concentrated their minds, and a number of deals have been struck in quick succession. The negotiations, between Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Vice President Riek Machar, have been direct, without international mediation. The agreements include extra National Assembly seats for the south and South Kordofan, and an arrangement for the representation of Abyei. The SPLM has played its hand well, grown in stature and won some major concessions. More significantly, this shows that when necessary, the SPLM and NCP can do business. We can be much more confident that the two parties will be able to negotiate the arrangements for the referendum and what follows, without a catastrophic breakdown.
The Sudanese political classes, north and south, are skilled politicians, and their skills are on display right now.
My personal prediction is that the election will go ahead in April. It might be delayed a few days, but purely for technical reasons such as late delivery of voting slips. The three continuous voting days might also have to be extended, if there are still lines of would-be voters waiting outside polling stations on the evening of day three.
Based on what we read and see,it seems that we are heading towards elections in April, but I hope it is not on basis of “for ill or well let the wheel turn”.
Only yesterday President Isayas Afworke of Eritrea, is reported to have proposed to President Bashir of Sudan a two years’ delay of both the elections and the referendum. And will be sending a delegation to Juba to convey this proposal to VP Salvatore Kiir, President of the GOSS. The Eritrean President does not give details, but generally refers to time needed to reconcile the parties. One can deny that there are still issues pending that must be addressed. From Dar Fur, to the census, to restrictive laws, to certain practices in the media, etc..
Reading the excellent analysis of Dr.Mansour Khalid, (the daily newspaper, Alray Alam) last of which is March 6, 2010, and in view of many other reading, I wonder if it does not help asking:
“What does the Sudan need more, reconciliation or elections?”
I hope that friends would comment.
I suspect that President Isseyas might privately recommend doing away with elections altogether.
It would have been preferable for a host of issues including the Darfur conflict, national reconciliation, restrictive laws, etc., to have been resolved before the election. But, in light of the CPA timetable and the consensus that the referendum should not be delayed, there are strong arguments for proceeding with these elections, in the knowledge that they will not be the last elections, and they will not obviate the need for attention to these other issues.
Sudan needs both reconciliation and elections. I am encouraged by the way in which political leaders in the south are trying to address them both together.
I did not say he proposed doing away with elections altogether, it’s a two years delay,according to Sudan Tribune of Saturday March 6, 2010.
Indeed it is the very spirit in which issues are being tabled and discussed, that prompt me to table the question.
Of course Sudan needs both,but i think reconciliation, and national consensus, could pave the way to better results,and without prejudice to the basic question of the referendum.
I am quite aware of the stipulations of the CPA, but would agree with me that the context is more important than the text.
Best regards and thank you.
There are two main issues regarding the coming election in Sudan which are the concern of many people regardless of their political views or affiliation.
1- Is the election going to make any different for their life or not?
2- Whether the election is going to be free and fair or not?
Looking for answers to those two main questions many people decided not to be part of the whole process by not registering to vote. Looking at how the election campaign is running we have to take into accounts many points, I am summarising them in the following:
First: any comparison between the start of the National Congress Party (NCP) election campaign and the campaign of others political parties is unfair comparison for many reasons:
a- The NCP is in power for 21 years controlling all the government apparatus, and done everything to destroy others, and ensure draining their opponents from any resources by seizing many of their assets, many of them still seeking compensations for their lost assets.
b- The NCP use the state resources as is difficult to differentiate between the state and the government political party, as state become the party and the party become the state.
c- The NCP is in total control of the economy they have monopoly over most of economic institutions, with the ability to drive any opponent out of business at any time.
d- The NCP members own more than 11 national newspapers, 5 television stations and in total control of the publicly owned National Radio and Television.
I am in Khartoum since the start of the official election campaign start last month and closely following the dispute between the National Election Commission, and Juba alliance parties, and the reasons behind that , whether you agree or disagree with Juba Alliance Parities there are many genuine concerns which need to be address to restore the creditability of the body which suppose to ensure the election is free and fair and if you question the impartiality of NEC that will overshadow the whole process.
I will concentrate on one issue regarding allowing all the candidates to run free campaign and not to use the Security Act or the Public Order Act to prevent them from campaigning freely as all the security organs are total control by the NCP, for the NEC to issue circular asking the political parties to ask for permission to hold a political rallies refereeing to Ministry of Internal Affair rules is questioning its impartiality, as political parties are supposed to advise the authority and not to ask for permission.
Recently the NEC facilitated an agreement to administer the national Radio and Television to allow equal access to all the political parties and candidates, the mechanism called National Mechanism for administering the National media. The Juba Alliance decided to withdraw from it in after less the a week complaining about the way it is run.
The agreement to give all political parties equal chance in the publicly owned Radio and Television also failed. They started by giving the presidential candidates opportunity to explain their election programmes but they way they administered that raised suspicion, as they gave each candidate 20 minutes in the Radio and the same in TV, the Radio broadcast was at 7:00am and the TV was at 11:00pm. But they knew most people donâ€™t listen or watch radio or television at those times, and al Bashir as president has the whole day and his news is always the first news in the radio and TV, that cannot be right.
Many non-NCP candidates are complaining about their leaflet been destroyed, as the NCP has its leaflets everywhere and their banners in moving lorries slowing down the traffic all round the capital.
One of the main duties of NEC is to educate voters on how to vote in election system which is very difficult and complicated for countries which practice genuine democracy for hundreds of years, not Sudan with the rate of illiteracy over 70%, but they have done nothing their excuse is lack of resources. According to my personal experience that doesnâ€™t cost much. At Justice Africa we are running voters education programme with a minimum cost we even produce a DVD to explain the voting process.
I think it is important to have free and fair election and it must be seen as free and fair by all the stakeholders, just to have elections for the sake it will complicate things further.
The NCP seemed to be giving a strong boost to the credibility of the elections when two very respected individuals were appointed to the NEC (Abel Alier) and PPAC (Bishara Dawsa). But especially the NEC has turned out to be toothless. It is always complaining of lack of money and has not been at all transparent in handling the issues and complaints, with the worst case being the regulations on public meetings which are very restrictive, giving even more powers to the authorities to control or prohibit rallies. The NEC has also done nothing to establish fair access to the media. The opposition parties increasingly feel that they were led into this election on the false promise that the process would be presided over by independent institutions, and in the middle of the campaign they find that they have been misled. The Juba Alliance Parties will meet next Monday (15th) and decide on whether to withdraw or continue, but either way there is little gain for them.
In the South of Sudan, as you say, it is a bit different and thanks to the African Union there is some progress. The Juba Alliance missed the chance to have the same code of elections conduct adopted in Khartoum which would have helped them, but the fundamentel issue is that the ruling party is setting the rules as well as playing the game and it is intending to win.
You are correct about Pres. Isseyas’s recommendation as reported. My point was that Eritrea has no elections, no political parties, no constitution, and Pres. Isseyas seems to like it that way.
On context and text of the CPA, I would argue that the most important is the spirit of the agreement. Democratization is an intrinsic part of that. The NCP has insisted that it wants the elections, and if the SPLM is to be able to proceed with a referendum, it must cooperate with the elections. The SPLM’s response to this has been to bargain as hard as possible for the best deal on the issues it cares about (with considerable success), without withdrawing the candidacy of Yasir Arman (on the valid argument that if the NCP wants an election, let it have one…). So the context of the election is the bilateral bargaining between these two parties, in the year before the referendum.
This context leaves the other parties in the Juba Alliance in a fix. The SPLM is simultaneously negotiating with the NCP around the CPA and playing politics with the opposition. It is a re-run of the 2001-04 period when the SPLM was in an exclusive negotiating forum with the GoS in Machakos/ Naivasha and at the same time part of the NDA. At the end of the day, the SPLM’s interest in its own constituency won the day, and the NDA did not come in on the CPA. The Juba Alliance parties should learn this lesson.
Dear Hafiz and Khalid,
The NCP’s dominance of public life is the characteristic of a dominant party system, in which the opposition has some space, but cannot seriously challenge the incumbent. In these circumstances, local and personal politics may lead to isolated defeats for the ruling party in some constituencies, including governorships, but its overall control is not in doubt.
Some of the means for achieving this are clumsy, such as the publicly owned media. The recent NEC regulations are similarly unfortunate.
The opposition parties’ calculation should not be, “are we able to challenge the NCP on a properly level playing field?” but, “what incremental but significant gains could we make?” Having registered as parties, and registered their candidates, they appeared to be investing in making the system work to their least disadvantage. They could have done more (e.g. adopting and promoting the Electoral Code of Conduct, which deals with a number of their issues of complaint). Half-heartedness is doing them a disservice. They should also take note of the reality that most of the international community is more interested in the completion of the CPA than the elections per se, and they will not get much sympathy if they decide to boycott. Few of the internationals (the exception is the AU) spend much time with them, or take them very seriously.
I agree that much more could have been done on voters’ education. This is probably the single greatest problem with the elections.
Whatever happens, Sudan will remain complicated. Elections are part of a process of democratization. Today’s context, for all sorts of reasons, hampers the opposition. But there is no alternative on offer, and the best option is to make the best of it.
The situation in southern Sudan is somewhat different, and different opportunities for democratization exist. I came away from Juba last week much more hopeful about the prospects for democratization there.
Our problem in Sudan is we have too many agreements but all of them dishonoured, and if the international community is just waiting for the term of CPA to finish (six year) without resolving the problems which led to negotiating and signing it in 2005, that is another matter, I donâ€™t think the CPA will achieve its main objectives next year, let us just go back 7 years to 2002 when the serious peace negotiations started, I think we have more complicated problems now than at that time.
And if the end game of the international community is the referendum in 2011 which most probably end with the secession of the south, I think they are committing a grave mistake, because even if the south secedes in the current situation neither the north nor the south will see any stability as many serious issues which will make this transition smooth have not been resolved yet. The other question, why Sudanese are waiting for outsiders to decide their fate, most people in Sudan knew that the coming election will not resolve the problems facing the country — the NCP wanted to gain legitimacy and the west wanted it as it will pave the for the secession of the south. What about Sudanese people? I think Sudan has become the only country in world which foreigners have a say in shaping its future more than its own people. I think it is time for Sudanese to decide their own destiny instead of looking for solutions from outside.
Eritrea never had elections since its independence in 1993, but that is not the issue here. The real issue here is the significance of this proposal as it comes from Eritrea which is a member of IGAD and whether or not it reflects some regional thinking about the situation in the Sudan.
You would agree with me that these elections elections come at a very crucial time for Sudan,as a country, and while it seems that the country is set for elections and a referendum, in consonance with the stipulations of the CPA, there are also issues that both, the NCP and the SPLM must still settle,and while the CPA has set a time frame, it is the reality on the ground that should guide the parties.
This what prompted me to question the significance of the Eritrean proposal and if it is not worth more consideration.
Thank you for the helpful analysis of what I agree has thus far been a fascinating campaign season in Sudan. Apologies for being late in responding to your post, but luckily the discussion between you and David Barsoum relates to the question I have on your thoughts on the recent NCP-SPLM deals.
I certainly agree that the recent deals negotiated by the parties and driven by Taha and Machar without international mediation show that â€œwhen necessary, the SPLM and NCP can do business.â€ Indeed, Taha and Machar are skilled politicians and these kind of elite deals may be what is needed to mitigate or avert North-South conflict surrounding the likely secession of southern Sudan next year.
However, getting to your point that the spirit of the CPA was the prospect of democratization of all of Sudan, how can this ideal be marginally upheld in the remainder of the CPAâ€™s interim period if we know that the NCP and SPLM will prioritize hard bargaining that yields their respectively desired results (as opposed to results that prioritize the spirit of the CPA and the inclusion of Sudanâ€™s diverse peoples in political processes)? What do you think of the argument that well-coordinated international support in the form of mediation in the negotiations to come (on outstanding CPA issues and post-referendum arrangements) could help pressure the Sudanese parties to stick to their commitments to upholding and implementing the spirit of the CPA?
Thank you very much,
I think you raised a very important question here of whether Sudan needs elections or reconciliation? The fact is, reconciliation seems more important than elections to Sudan, however, without respecting the elections timeframe, it would be quite hard to see how Sudan can achieve reconciliation. No need to say that elections under the current situation will not make the situation any better towards national reconciliation and peace.
Alex is right in a way regarding Eritrea. Eritrea also, for your information, has suspended its membership in the IGAD early in 2007 over the issue of Ethiopia intervention in Somalia and the inaction by the IGAD to condemn Ethiopia over that issue and as Eritrea was so advocating.
Sudan is really trapped in this CPA timeframe for the elections and the referendum, to say the least. The whole logic of the CPA and the reasons for the North to accept the self-determination of the South in that agreement, was the strong belief in the unionist vision of the charismatic late leader Dr. John Garang. The unexpected death of Garang is one of the major reasons behind the current dilemma of Sudan.
Under no condition the South is willing now to let this opportunity slip from its hands by accepting any change in the CPA implementation timeframe, and likewise, the NCP is bitterly trying to live with this crisis of miscalculations and also has its many reasons to also stick to the deadlines of the CPA. For the North, the referendum was never a genuine offer to the South, and the secession was never an option anticipated. This makes of El-Beshir a man determined to stay in power whatever it cost. Similar to the South, El-Beshir is also determined to have the elections in time; he simply cannot afford to lose the South and his Presidency at the same and one time.
So, my answer to your question is that reconciliation is what the Sudan needs most, but unfortunately, it is an option that we have to bid goodbye for now.
your posting raises questions that demand more space than I can give in a comment. Let me respond at greater length about the challenges of democratizing what is a rentier-patrimonial system (which I have elsewhere called the “political marketplace”). In this context, international pressure is only as meaningful as the incentives that are structured into that pressure. Unfortunately, many of the recent international actions, such as sustaining sanctions and issuing an arrest warrant for the president, have resulted in perverse and anti-democratic outcomes. (Which isn’t to say that the reverse actions are necessarily going to promote democracy.)
For information, the NCP signed the Electoral Code of Conduct and Declaration of Common Commitments in Khartoum today, bringing to 16 the number of parties that have signed.
I like the way that, despite the many obvious shortcomings in the run-up to the elections (unfair NCP advantage, misuse of state resources, numerous logistic challenges in conducting the elections and many others), you believe that the elections will proceed. I think so too.
And for a simple reason; elections in Africa must not be held to the high standards of the west. Only a naive person would expect flawless, free and fair elections in a continent still undergoing some form of nation-building, where ethnic loyalties are what entrenches political loyalty and economic state of the electorate is atrocious.
We should see this as a path to democratization. The fact that a strongman like Bashir (who actually seized power in a coup) has agreed to an election should show the world that we have begun and we’ll get there.
However, am still worried about Darfur and the prospects of elections, if at all there will be any. I still do not know the content of the deal signed between JEM and NCP in Doha, but I heard that JEM were pushing for postponement of the same for 5 years (!). In Darfur, I think even we are pushing it!
The Horn is going to see a couple more elections in the coming year. I bet they will have their own share of shortcomings.
Dear Joshua Kariuki
The issues in these elections in the Sudan are more complex and of far more reaching consequences than many think, and hence all this debate.
However let us recall that the Sudan is not a total stranger to elections, which were conducted , without observers, and were at the highest levels of integrity and fairness.
Nothing should deny the Africans from seeking the highest standards applied in human affairs, I dont see why we we talk of sub-standards to Africa.
Looks like we are telling the NCP thank you for accepting the elections (,we have begun and we will get there.) And it is this very logical, that legitimized many a dictatorial regime in Africa to-day, where we see the semblance of elections, and the same results.
No one advanced such arguments in the case of Zimbabwe, so why accept it for the Sudan?
Indeed this is what is raising questions in the Sudan to-day,and as Hafiz above says, elections seem to have become an end-game, leading to the referendum,and the secession of the South.
If I keep repeating that the Sudan needs reconciliation more than elections, it is not to say that the CPA should be revised or the right to self-determination be cancelled, still the CPA stipulations remain, the right to self-determination remains,and the option to secede remains,but it will be a happy separation and not an angry one,a separation based on agreed borders and agreed,clear and definitive post-secession arrangements.
It is because issues are so mixed up, Dear Joshua, as you yourself say when you talk about the JEM and the NCP.
Elections are not an end, otherwise, Albashir can claim that he won elections ,which indeed he did,and if we exempt Africa from the (high standards of the west), then he is an elected leader.
I, like Hafiz above, call on all the Sudanese to rise up to the challenge,and face their problems, for only the Sudanese can solve their problems, our friends , the international community and all theirs can only help, let us not overburden them, fatigue, after all, may impair the judgement.
According to the election Council in Khartoum 18 million registered voters did register out of 24 million. The ones who did not register seem to be in the big cities, which is strange.
This an important issue, for debating. Let me share, I have been too busy campaigning. I am one of some 640 candidates running for election in Khartoum State, at different levels of an already very complicated electoral law-and-structure. As Secretary General of the National Justice Party (NJP), I am contesting for the National Assembly to represent constituency No. 16 (al-Reef al-Shimaly and al-Fath Township) in Karary Locality of Northern Omdurman. I am personally funding my political campaign process. I am up for the challenge, and would not be harassed by NCP extravaganza. Sixteen other candidates are also contesting to represent the same constituency.
Reflecting on the issue: I would like the elections process to proceed so that the Sudanese can change the 52 percent legislative clout of the NCP in the last appointed General Assembly, as per the CPA. Please remember that the greatness of the CPA arises from the fact that it not only stopped the war, but also curtailed the absolute control of the NCP. The margin of democracy in the country is, now, another tangible outcome of the CPA that conventional parties have failed to maximize through uniting to defeat the NCP, they have not done enough in five years of interim period. They might do very little, if the elections are aborted, for whichever logic.
I have lots of confidence that the voters in my constituency will vote for me to win, against the NCP candidate. If the voters trend otherwise, I will respect their free vote. All I need is a free polling process.
I certainly wish you good-luck.
I have one question about this constituency, what is it’s total population, and how does it qualify as a constituency?
This is important because the drawing of the constituencies itself, raised some questions too.
You are posing an important question, yet a difficult one. The basis for delineating a constituency is the 2008 Census, the results of which are muddled in lots on controversy: unfair; rigged … etc. According to the census and the Electoral Commission each geographic constituency for the national assembly (NA) is to have 145000 residents. Karary Locality has two NA constituencies (#14 and #16). The constituency (#16), in which I compete with some 16 aspirants, has 77000 eligible voters – including both rural and urban-fringe – in the northern parts of the city of Omdurman.
Irrespective of the general complexities facing the elections, in Darfur, the Gezira and Southern Kurdufan, the mere chance for ‘free-and-fair’ internationally ‘observed’ electoral process, is sufficient driver to impair the absolutist muscle of the NCP.
Dear Abdalbasit Saeed
Thank you very much and once more I wish you luck.
What you say here, raises more serious questions, if there are problems in Dar Fur (and I assume you refer to the three states of Dar Fur), the Gezira and Southern Kordofan,then one one wonders if this will not be a restricted election closed to very few regions favourable to the two parties of CPA?
I agree with you, the NCP, despite all machinations may yet face surprises at the hand of the voters, still this does augur well for the country.
I appreciate your views on this please.
While Khartoum ‘appears’ calm, everybody is well aware that ‘the day of judgement’ on the NCP is quite near. If I were the Head of State for 21-years, I will not campaign the way the President is doing: I would be too well known to the young eligible voter (18+ years), and my achievement would speak out in my favour. But the fact that the President is the most ‘serious’ campaigner would either spell out ‘how much money at his lap that he could spend’ or tell ‘how anxious he is to maintain the high ‘legitimacy’ portfolio. Either way, candidates who are financially poor, like myself, are the ones who need to devise an articulate platform so that prospective voters could be persuaded to support.
For the complexities that abound, the Elections Commission had decided to partially postpone the elections in Southern Kurdufan. Darfur, as you can read from the Doha rounds of negotiations, is entering ‘big-power-politics’ in the end-game. It is apparent that ‘Pawns and Bishops’ must make way for Rooks and Queens. I just heard that the elections might be postponed by ten days or two weeks, for technical reasons. That takes us to the last week of April: still I look forward for the balloting to take place. The Chairman of my party is contesting for the position of ‘State wali’ (Governor) for Khartoum state. It is an interesting experience, yet a very serious for the future accent of Sudan.