Justice Africa’s Mock Election
The coming election in Sudan is one of the most complicated elections in the world. In the north people have to vote eight times and twelve times in the south, that in a country with around 70% rate of illiteracy.
I have been studying the new electoral system in Sudan for the last two months, as Justice Africa is carrying out some election related activities including voter’s education.
We produced a simple manual and also carried out mock election (voting procedure) from which we produced a DVD to teach people how to vote. We are also carrying out training of trainers, so they can help in educating the public. The manual is available here: Election Manual – English
Until now we managed to train around 300 people. Some of them are candidates in the coming election. One of the main outcomes of those exercises is that the system is very complicated. It is difficult even for the candidate themselves — many of them don’t know how to vote correctly. That raised many questions. One of them is that if the situation stays as it is, the election will be decided by the void ballot papers.
Many believe this is a conspiracy from the National Congress Party (NCP) because most of their opponents will not know how to vote, while the NCP trained its supporters on the new system but not others. However, I don’t believe that is the case as the NCP leaders themselves will find it difficult to vote correctly.
Voters’ education is supposed to be the responsibility of the National Election Commission (NEC) but for many reasons they failed to carry that task properly. Just this week they started putting up posters which explain the right way to vote. They also produced a television play to show people how to vote, but the two are not clear and need more explanation. Also, these do not address the challenge of reaching people in the remote parts of the country where there are no posters or television.
One of the difficulties which will face voters is that, due to lack of knowledge of how to vote, people might take long time to vote and that will lead to long queues at the voting stations. If that happens, many people might leave the queues without voting, especially in the rural areas where the voting centres are at far distances for many. Another of the difficulties in the rural areas is the lack of a proper venue to be used as voting centres. Most places will probably use school classrooms with no power or ventilation, which are also insecure.
One of the difficulties which might face voters, candidates and political parties, is if they decided to form an alliance in contesting the election. It is easy if you decided to vote for one party in all the 8 stages in north or the 12 stages in south, then you simply tick one symbol in all the stages and that is easy. But if you decided to vote tactically by voting for a different symbol in each of the 8 or 12 stages then problems will arise here, you have to remember to what symbol you want to vote and at which stage. We have 3 boxes in the north: (1) the president and state governor; (2) National Assembly (3 votes) and (3) State Assembly (3 votes also). In southern Sudan there is one more box for the South Sudan legislative Council. Each ballot paper has different colour, that means you have to remember the colours if you can’t read. That itself is a big problem and needs more voters’ education.
I also looked at the possibilities of defrauding the election and what are the possible scenarios for doing so. This is what I found:
1- In the current environment of distrust and the questioning of the NEC impartiality, that raised suspicion most of the times, also the control of the NCP over all the government institutions , civil service , police and the army create a lot of suspicions .
2- The dispute over the issues of census, constituencies demarcation and voters registration, as most of the registration is carried out by providing one’s proof of identity which is the residency certificate issued by the Popular Committee which is appointed by the NCP and controlled by its members. Many people are suspicious that many of those certificates are false and for registering people either not in existence or not living in the neighbourhood which they are supposed to be living in, and there are many claims that some people are registered in more the one centre which is against the law and amounts to a criminal offence.
3- There many questions of registering non-Sudanese whom arrived recently to the country without asking them for proper documentation.
4- Questions are also raised about the ink which is supposed to be used to mark the fingers of voters. It is supposed to last for 10 days, but people talking about a chemical which is able to remove it immediately. Also the issue of women whom using hand colour (Henna) as they can vote and go home put Henna to cover the ink and come and vote again if they want to defraud the system.
5- The issue of women wearing Islamic dress covering their faces (Hegab) as they cover their faces and someone must check their faces to ensure that they are the rights people.
6- As the voting is for three days, that opens a possibility of rigging the election by tampering with the ballot boxes, to avoid any sort of fraud all the boxes must be kept in the same place so all the monitors and candidate agents can see them and ensure that no one moves them.
7- There are also a possibility of someone using other people’s names to vote. If that happened to you the NEC staff the in voting centre will allow you to vote but you must put your voting paper in a different box and there is no guarantee that those vote will be counted.
8- People with special need issues have not been addressed satisfactorily. For blind people the common practice in most of the world is they have to bring a friend to help them as postal and proxy voting is not allowed, but the NEC decided to ask the head of the polling stations to help them and I don’t think people trust the NEC official in the current climate of distrust.
9- The issue of moving ballot boxes in the rural areas as there are some mobile voting stations targeting people living in small villages with far distance between them that will open the door for fraud also.
It is difficult to stop all types of fraudulent practices but it is possible to reduce them to the minimum, and that needs coordination between elections monitors (local and international) and the candidates’ agents. A plan needs to be put in place before the polling day.