Electoral Code of Conduct Adopted in Juba
Democracy in Sudan is fragile – it needs every support it can get. Today, the political parties in southern Sudan adopted and signed an Electoral Code of Conduct and a Declaration of Common Commitments. Independent candidates also signed the Code of Conduct. This was the culmination of extensive consultations on the content of a code of conduct a two-day summit convened by the African Union Panel for Sudan.
The summit meeting was remarkable. It brought the contending party leaders in the south into the same room. Even two weeks ago, the SPLM leadership was insisting that Lam Akol, the leader of SPLM-DC, would not be permitted to campaign in southern Sudan, and there was also acrimony between the SPLM and many independent candidates. The SPLM leadership has not yet agreed to sit around the table with SPLM members who are running as independents, but over the last two days it was ready to discuss at length with all the other political parties putting up candidates in southern Sudan, including Lam Akol’s SPLM-DC. Several of these parties made specific complaints in the meeting, about violations of their freedom to campaign, arrest and detention of their members and agents, and confiscation of their materials. The Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Riek Machar, listened patiently to these points, responded to many, and promised to take up others. Given the polarization that loomed, the cordial atmosphere in the summit was extraordinary.
The foundation for the summit was common ground among SPLM and other parties that the elections will go ahead, and postponement or boycott is not an option. Riek Machar made a strong statement on this point in his closing remarks: “If the north decides it doesn’t want to go for elections, in the south we will still go for elections.” He explained that this was because the elections were an essential exercise in themselves, and because they would legitimize the referendum beyond any shadow of doubt. He rejected any possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) and insisted that the mechanism for resolving the question of unity or secession was the CPA and only the CPA.
“We don’t want another debate about the general feelings of the people of southern Sudan. We want to resolve this finally by going to the people for the referendum, and the body to do this should be an elected government, a government voted in by the people. Some think you can do a referendum without elections. But you will have difficulties. We should not revert to a situation in which we quarrel among ourselves on the referendum. So forget about UDI. Use the mechanism that is agreed, is accepted now by all parties, in the north and the south. So that you are recognized, you have credible.”
The AU Panel had originally intended to convene a summit meeting in Khartoum in February. However, the premise of the meeting – that all participants accepted that the elections will go ahead – was not agreed among the parties comprising the Juba “National Consensus Alliance.” The documents adopted in the Juba summit are valid nationally, and will be open for parties based in Khartoum to adopt them.
The Electoral Code of Conduct is a strong document. It draws upon several draft codes drawn up by Sudanese parties and independent activists, as well as codes used for elections in Ethiopia, India, Palestine and South Africa. Its contents were discussed at length among political parties in Khartoum, including the SPLM and southern parties. It was further refined and strengthened during the summit meeting in Juba.
Any Code of Conduct is only as good as its enforcement mechanism. The principal mechanism are Political Parties Councils, convened at southern Sudan and state level, in which all parties are represented, where complaints can be raised and heard. The summit meeting was, in effect, a meeting of the southern Sudan Political Leadership Forum, and the suggestion arose that this should serve as Political Parties Council. The African Union was also asked to promote elections monitoring.
The Declaration of Common Commitments addresses wider issues of concern in Sudan, such as the implementation of the CPA and a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur.
The Electoral Code of Conduct is available here: Sudan Electoral Code of Conduct
The Declaration of Common Commitments is available here: Declaration Common Commitment
(Update on 8 March: the signature page of the Electoral Code of Conduct, including the NCP’s signature, added in Khartoum, is available here: ECOC Signature page 8 Mar 2010)
This is a very helpful update. One question: How viable are the candidacies of the SPLM members running as independents? Put another way, do they have the “grassroots” support that they claim to have?
I cannot vouch for the full range of independent candidates in southern Sudan. But a number of the SPLM members who have declared independent candidacies have done so precisely because they have strong grassroots support, and they and their supporters were unhappy at the SPLM’s process of selecting candidates.