Sudan: The Ugly Election
Rigging, fraud and corruption, there were. Voters excluded from the poll, last-minute registration and a roundup of voters with hastily-issued residence certificates which may or may not have matched the names on the voters’ roll, all will surely be documented by the observers. These had no material consequence for the outcome of last week’s election in Sudan.
The ugly result of the election was determined long ago by the material forces that have driven Sudanese political life for the best part of forty years. Political organization founded in the means of production was decisively crushed by the May Revolution and instead Sudanese have witnessed the coalescence of political activities around nothing more than proximity to the state and its instruments of power and rent. The only revolutionary alternatives, from the left in the form of the banners of the “New Sudan” raised by the SPLM, and from the right with the Islamists’ slogans of self-reliance, adopted from necessity rather than conviction, have long since succumbed to the lure of the politics of the bazaar.
The pursuit of unearned lucre was already the timbre of our political life before petroleum revenues turned the national political theatre into an unapologetic scramble to gain an admission ticket to the club of the nouveau riche. Political competition turned not into a free exchange of ideas and consideration of alternative public policies but instead a beauty contest of oaths of allegiance to our president and his debased slogans.
Our voters fall into two main categories. Category A is those who have, of necessity or opportunism, joined the loyalty parade. This includes almost all rural voters whose services and livelihoods require government beneficence. It includes anyone who may need a licence to trade. These voters will vote NCP, and the uglier the candidate, the more likely they will vote him in, because the ugliest representative is likely to be the one seated closest to the president and his minions.
Category B is those who have neither material interest nor personal proclivity for this kind of politics. Most of them did not register and most of those who registered did not vote. Observing the trickle of voters at the polling stations last week I would guess that the male population under the age of thirty belongs in its near entirety to category B.
The election enables us to calculate the relative sizes of these two constituencies in terms of simple arithmetic. In terms of political weight, category B has none at all. There is no meaningful opposition constituency that might form a category C. The humiliation of the party leaders who contested and lost is the verdict of history.
Hafiz Mohammed is correct that the NCP spent vast sums on this election, preparing as far back as 2005. When its party cadres undertake their post-electoral analysis and assess their efforts, they will have good reason to be satisfied with the fruits of their labours. They have secured the election of an impressive list of ugly candidates. The sad thing is that they did not need to work so hard and spend so much money. For sure, they bought votes and (as the daily papers are now relishing informing us) even bought entire so-called “opposition” parties, whose leaders have now absented themselves from the country rather than face their disaffected loyalists, who will not be persuaded by their tales of rigging and unfair procedures. These parties are now surely due for their long overdue burials. From my observation, however, much of this vote buying was superfluous, and the fraud was redundant in its entirety, as the majority of the electorate would have voted for the NCP regardless of any immediate material inducements on offer. They voted willingly for Salah Gosh, al-Hadi Abdalla and other NCP candidates precisely because they knew which side their bread was buttered.
There is no opposition to the NCP, at least in northern Sudan, worthy of the name. The slogans of Yasir Saeed Arman ring hollow. The alternative to the NCP is the apathetic and apolitical citizenry, predominantly the youth, who took no interest whatsoever in the vision of democratization, who never read a newspaper, and who if asked could only name one candidate in the entire election, namely the incumbent president. Sudan’s rentier economy has reproduced an economic class that resembles the peasantry of 19th century Russia in its resemblance to a sack of potatoes, without economic or organizational foundation for political mobilization in any shape or form.
As I wrote in this column before, in my essay “Sudan at the Crossroads,” the fundamental problem of Sudan is the nature of the state-bourgeoisie in power, and the solution can arise only from that self-same power centre. There is no counter-elite capable of mounting a serious challenge to it. Neither the objective nor subjective conditions for transformative change exist and there is no potential for generating them in the immediate future. Any revolutionary efforts under existing conditions would either be a farce or would degenerate into a futile bloodbath. Only the urban areas, transformed by a productive economy integrated with world markets, could provide the potential engine for a transformational change in the Sudanese political economy.
The true ugliness of this election is not the clumsy fraud that NCP cadres practiced here and there, but the sadder reality that manipulation and rigging were not needed in the slightest, for the NCP to win by a landslide and secure an Egyptian-style hegemonic position in the political life of the Sudanese nation for many years to come.