The principal preoccupation of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is to win the elections now scheduled for 11-13 April 2010. It has manipulated the census results and voter registration, drafted the election laws in its favour, gerrymandered electoral districts, co-opted traditional leaders and bought tribal loyalties. It has done this all over Sudan, but especially in Darfur, where it has had freedom and means to carry out its strategy, since that is the only region still under emergency rule. Because of the fundamentally flawed process, the international community, working closely with the African Union High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (AUHIP), should acknowledge that whoever wins will likely lack legitimacy; press for Darfur peace talks to resume immediately after the elections; insist that any Darfur peace deal provides for a new census, voter registration and national elections; and lay the groundwork for a peaceful referendum on southern self-determination and post referendum North-South relations.
One indication of the NCP’s long-term plans to rig the elections was the management of the 2008 census. The flawed results were then used to draw electoral districts, apportion seats in the national and state legislatures and organise the voter registration drive. Census takers – aided by NCP party organisers – expended great efforts to count supporters in Southern Darfur (mostly inhabited by Arabs), nomads of Northern Darfur and some tribes loyal to the party. They also reportedly counted newcomers from Chad and Niger, who had settled in areas originally inhabited by persons displaced in the Darfur conflict, and issued them identity papers so they can vote as Sudanese citizens. However, most of the estimated 2.6 million internally displaced (IDPs) living in camps, as well as people from groups hostile to the NCP living in “insecure” neighbourhoods of cities and the population of rebel-controlled areas were not counted.
Darfur is important for the NCP because Southern Darfur is the second most populous state and Northern Darfur is the fifth. The three Darfur states combined have 19 per cent of Sudan’s population (according to the flawed 2008 census), slightly less than the South. Darfur has been allocated 86 seats out of 450 in the national assembly (the latter number may increase to 496, if the assembly approves an agreement the NCP reached with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, SPLM, the dominant party in the South). Winning big in Darfur is thus central to the NCP’s hopes of capturing enough votes in northern Sudan to ensure its continued national dominance.
The NCP was able to gain advantages by dominating the drafting of election laws, despite opposition from the SPLM and other parties, and through the demarcation of favourable new electoral districts based on the flawed census results and organised by a National Elections Commission (NEC) heavily influenced by NCP members appointed to its various branches. As a result, constituencies have been added in areas where NCP supporters are the majority and removed in areas where they are not.
The voter registration process in Darfur also favoured the NCP. According to national and international observers alike, many groups targeted in the conflict, especially IDPs, were unable to register or refused to do so. In many instances, people were deliberately denied sufficient time and information, while teams worked hard in remote areas to register nomads who support the government. NCP party organisers aggressively helped register likely supporters and new immigrants; security personnel deployed in remote areas were registered in contravention of the NEC regulations. Lastly, the NCP has co-opted local leaders and played the ethnic card, further polarising the population. It has used money and offers of positions of power to buy the loyalty of tribal and community leaders, who in turn have been mobilising their constituencies to support the ruling party.
The result is an almost certain victory for the NCP. And the consequences for Darfur are catastrophic. Disenfranchising large numbers of people will only further marginalise them. Since the vote will impose illegitimate officials through rigged polls, they will be left with little or no hope of a peaceful change in the status quo, and many can be expected to look to rebel groups to fight and win back their lost rights and lands.
Ideally, elections would be held after a peace deal has been negotiated and the problems with the census, voter registration and demarcation of electoral districts resolved. However, this is not likely. The NCP is desperate to legitimise President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, and the SPLM fears any delay may risk jeopardising the South’s January 2011 self-determination referendum. To contain the damage from rigged elections to both the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South conflict and the Darfur peace process, therefore, it is necessary that:
- electoral observation missions in Sudan take note of the severely flawed process, and governments and international organisations, especially the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council, state that whoever wins will lack a genuinely democratic mandate to govern;
- the international community, working closely with the AUHIP, demand that CPA implementation and Darfur peace negotiations resume immediately after the elections, and any new peace deal in Darfur include provisions for a new census and voter registration drive in the region and new national elections at that time; and
- the AU, UN and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as well as other key international supporters of the CPA act immediately after the election to encourage the Khartoum government and the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) to agree on the critical steps needed to ensure a peaceful self-determination referendum in the South in January 2011 and stability in both North and South in the aftermath of that referendum.