South Kordofan: The Next Electoral Challenge
According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and its Three Areas Protocol, which covers South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei, “˜Popular Consultations’ in the first two and a referendum in the third, are supposed to be conducted in the last year of the interim period to determine the future status of those areas. While the Abyei referendum involves all residents casting their votes as to whether the district belongs in the north or the south, the “˜Popular Consultations’ are conducted by the two state legislative assemblies, on the question of whether the existing arrangements for a special, quasi-autonomous status within northern Sudan, should continue. This provision is both weak and imprecise.
In Blue Nile, the SPLM candidate Malik Aggar managed to win the governorship position of the state after a long drama, but the SPLM lost the State Legislative Assembly by winning just 18 out 48 seats, and that makes it difficult for them to succeed in the Popular Consultation which will shape the future the state.
The SPLM in South Kordofan succeed in getting a concession from the government which delayed the elections of the governor and the state legislative assembly, pending holding a new census and establishing a new voters register.
There are many lessons to be learned from the recent election in Sudan, and the way the National Election Commission conducted the whole process.
As the election is for electing new State Legislative Assembly and Governor, it is important to ensure the whole process is free and fair and meets all the international Standards, not selective ones.
Learning from the recent election in Sudan, there are certain conditions for the process to be free and fair and also to represent the true well of the people of South Kordofan, that include the following:
– New census covering all the areas in South Kordofan, because the 2008 census failed to cover all the areas and therefore ended up supporting the NCP political agenda. The new census needs to be conducted under independent observation to ensure it is carried out according to the agreed norms and standards. It will be very difficult to conduct a new census during the rainy season, so it should be done either immediately before the rains or immediately afterwards.
– New demarcation of the election constituencies based on the new census.
– New voters registration also to be independently observed, with a convenient timetable for all the stages including the appeal period to ensure the voters registry doesn’t include in ghosts.
– The final voters’ registry must be finalised and published at least one month before the polling day to allow candidates to plan for election knowing who is going to vote and who is not, and where they are going to vote.
– A serious reform to the NEC work is needed in term of its logistical capability, and also changes to many of its rules and procedures that include the following:
1- For people with special needs and who need help inside the polling station, the rule must be changed to allow friends and families to give that help and not the NEC staff. There are many reports that polling station staff directed illiterate or blind voters to cast their ballots for a party that wasn’t the choice of the voter.
2- Ensure that they have enough voting centres within the reach of all the voters and not hours away from where they live.
3- Ensure that they give their staff enough training to deal with all the issues rising in the polling stations.
4- Prohibit the use of Residence Certificates alone as proof of identity for voting purposes, and replace them with a proper voters registration certificate including a photo, to be issued at the registration time and also verified by two witnesses.
I believe it is important to ensure those steps are taken for the process to be free and fair and to give it the needed credibility.
The danger with South Kordofan is that if the process of election is perceived to be rigged (and many already don’t have any faith in it), that may take us back immediately to war. The communities are already armed and mutually distrustful. That is why any excuses to rush this process, and take short cuts without fully explaining every step to the people, as NEC has done with the general election, will run very high risks. Questions such as published timetables and supposed constitutional requirements should not be taken as immutable. The dangers are simply too high.
I hope the Sudanese parties and the international community take all this into account and do not try to force the people to accept flawed processes which could very easily take the region back to war.