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Carter Center Welcomes Sudan's Electoral Calendar But Urges Additional Steps to Ensure Genuine and Viable Elections

(Read in Arabic - PDF)

May 7, 2009

In Khartoum: Aly Verjee +249 126 341 480 or +44 20 3004 9278
In Juba: Sanne van den Bergh: +249 126 724 565 or +256 477 182 893
In Atlanta: Deborah Hakes, +1 404 420 5124

In a report issued today, The Carter Center welcomes the important steps taken in Sudan toward holding national elections but identifies additional key steps that the Government of National Unity (GONU) and the National Elections Commission (NEC) should take to ensure a genuine and viable electoral process.

The NEC's recent declaration of an official electoral calendar is a significant milestone in Sudan's electoral process. Taken together with the NEC's formation in November 2008 and the beginning of its budgetary and planning work, these steps demonstrate important initial progress. However, significant challenges remain including the need for policy decisions on voter registration and constituency delimitation, and the need for the GONU to release funding for the NEC's work. In addition, Sudan's leaders should take action to amend legislation incompatible with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA); ensure effective implementation of such reforms; and promote greater respect for the freedoms of expression, association, and belief, and adequate conditions of physical and humanitarian security for all Sudanese, especially in Darfur and other areas with security challenges.

The Carter Center election observation mission began activities in Sudan in February 2008 in response to a request from the leaders of the GONU and the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). The NEC has subsequently confirmed this invitation. The Carter Center established offices in Khartoum and Juba, and Carter Center staff has travelled widely in Sudan to monitor electoral preparations, track the progress of related political developments, and inform key stakeholders of the Center's role in observing Sudan's electoral process.

The Center's election mission will assess the electoral process in Sudan based on the CPA, Interim National Constitution, National Elections Act, and obligations for democratic elections contained in regional and international agreements, including the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The objectives of the Carter Center's election observation mission in Sudan are to: a) provide an impartial assessment of the overall quality of the electoral process, b) promote an inclusive electoral process for all Sudanese, and c) demonstrate international interest in Sudan's electoral process.

In a longer report attached to this statement, The Carter Center expands on the seven key recommendations provided below for improving the administration of Sudan's electoral process. Both this statement and the accompanying report are based on reports from Carter Center observers and ongoing assessments by the Center's field offices in Khartoum and Juba.

Summary of key recommendations:

  • The electoral calendar decided by the NEC is ambitious and faces numerous financial, logistical, and practical challenges. Therefore, the GONU, with assistance from international donors as needed, should secure the timely release of funds to the NEC and subsidiary committees, as this support will be critical in ensuring the electoral process can proceed as planned.
  • The NEC should urgently conclude policy decisions affecting the formation of the subsidiary state and regional elections High Committees. In addition, policy decisions related to constituency delimitation and voter registration need to be made quickly by the NEC. As the process moves forward, the NEC should ensure there is transparency in its work to help build confidence in the electoral process.
  • Conducting voter registration in June, as called for in the NEC calendar, may face difficulties due to the onset of the rains in large areas of Sudan and therefore it might be useful for the NEC to consider contingency plans, possibly including a rolling voter registration process. Without a consolidated peace in Darfur, voter registration will face especially difficult challenges.
  • The NEC should enable the work of national and international civil society organizations engaged in voter and civic education and domestic election observation efforts, and establish clear policies and accreditation procedures.
  • The GONU should come to agreement regarding the national census and release the results as soon as possible. In addition, the GONU should resolve the North/South border demarcation process. Continued delay in these processes could jeopardize the timeline of the NEC's election calendar.
  • Implementation of all aspects of the CPA is an urgent priority. Respect for constitutionally guaranteed freedoms is a necessary precondition for any competitive electoral campaign.
  • Given the importance of holding national elections throughout Sudan, efforts should be redoubled to conclude a comprehensive peace in the Darfur region. The GONU and NEC should take clear steps to promote an environment conducive to the holding of comprehensive, participatory, and credible elections.

The Center encourages all actions that will promote and lead to a genuine, inclusive, and viable electoral process that meets international standards. Further, the Center notes the importance of elections in Sudan as a cornerstone of the more wide-ranging democratic transition anticipated in the CPA's Protocol on Power Sharing. The Center fully supports the right of all Sudanese to freely elect their representatives in a peaceful and tolerant environment, and reiterates its desire to contribute to building a lasting and just peace throughout Sudan.

The Center conducts election observation missions in accordance with the Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation and Code of Conduct that was adopted at the United Nations in 2005 and has been endorsed by 33 election observation groups.


The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. The Carter Center began working in Sudan in 1986 on the Sasakawa-Global 2000 agricultural project and for more than 20 years its health and peace programs have focused on improving health and preventing and resolving conflicts in Sudan. Please visit to learn more about The Carter Center. 

Sudan's 2010 Elections; Critical Steps for a Genuine and Viable Electoral Process

Sudan's historic 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) establishes a process of national democratic transition. As per the Interim National Constitution and the CPA, general elections are due to be held no later than the fourth year of the CPA Interim Period, i.e. before July 2009, unless otherwise agreed by the parties to the Agreement. As the body charged with organizing and conducting general elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has announced that polling will be held in February 2010, and the parties to the agreement have assented to this decision.

In support of CPA implementation, The Carter Center has launched a long-term election observation project in Sudan to support the consolidation of democracy and sustainable peace in the country. President Omar al-Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir invited The Carter Center to observe all aspects of the electoral process, and this invitation has subsequently been confirmed by the NEC. The National Elections Act 2008 and the CPA both call for the participation of international observers in Sudan's electoral process.

The Carter Center has maintained offices in Khartoum and Juba since February 2008, and Center field staff have liaised with representatives of the Government of National Unity (GONU) and the NEC to discuss the status of electoral preparations. In addition, Center staff has travelled throughout Sudan to meet with key stakeholders including government officials, local political party members, civil society organizations, and representatives of the international community, among others.

The National Elections Act, passed in July 2008, establishes the events and mechanisms required for the upcoming Sudanese electoral process. An important first step was the formation of the NEC in November 2008. The NEC is now operational and has published its projected electoral calendar, with demarcation of geographical constituencies due to have begun on April 15, 2009, national voter registration scheduled to occur in June 2009, a campaign period from November 2009 to February 2010, and polling to be held in February 2010. The release of a projected electoral calendar is an important and welcome development. The NEC's calendar calls for a polling date that avoids the worst of the rainy season for much of Sudan. However, the proposed voter registration process will fall during the rainy season and consequently will face additional challenges.

In order to ensure a genuine and viable electoral process, the NEC and GONU need to make significant progress on a wide range of political and technical issues. With nine months to go until the identified polling date, the Center has identified the following key areas for particular attention as the Sudanese electoral process continues to develop:

Practical challenges to the electoral calendar

The ten month calendar of electoral events released in April by the NEC will require substantial resources to be made available by the GONU, the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), and the international community. In response to budget requests from the NEC and subsidiary elections committees, it will be important that the GONU and international donors release funds in a timely fashion to ensure that progress is not impeded by a lack of resources.

Conducting simultaneous elections at multiple levels of government (President of the Republic, President of Southern Sudan, National Assembly, Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, state assemblies and governors) will present substantial logistical and practical challenges. Delimitation of constituency boundaries will also be a highly complex process, and possibly a source of political conflict. It will be important for the NEC to concentrate resources and expertise on key challenges. Where needed, international technical assistance could support such efforts and bolster national capacity in key areas, perhaps including constituency delimitation, voter/civic education, and the drafting of supporting regulations regarding election administration at the state level. Where appropriate, the GONU should facilitate access and registration for technical assistance organizations to operate in Sudan.

NEC policy decisions and operationalization of subsidiary committees

Substantial responsibility for implementation of the electoral process falls on the 26 subsidiary elections High Committees, one for each state and one for Southern Sudan. The NEC appears to be close to appointing these committees, which will be an important first step. However, with a little less than one month to go until an extensive voter registration process is due to begin, there is a rapidly shrinking window for the High Committees to begin their work and make the necessary preparations for an inclusive registration process. It remains unclear what powers and authorities will be devolved from the NEC to the High Committees. Therefore, a critical priority for action is to clarify the delineation between national, regional, and state election management body responsibilities as the electoral process moves forward.

In addition, to ensure that practical electoral arrangements can begin, the NEC needs to move forward with policy decisions on a wide range of issues, including those concerning voter registration and constituency delimitation. Further, it will take time to inform and educate the voting population about voter registration procedures. Exclusion of voters from the registration process due to a lack of awareness about the mechanics of the process will undermine the rights of Sudanese citizens to participate in the electoral process.

During its initial months in operation, the NEC has needed to focus on its internal arrangements. As the process moves forward, however, greater transparency in the day-to-day workings and periodic meetings of the NEC will allow citizens to better understand the NEC's electoral preparations, and will build confidence in the legitimacy of the electoral process. Popular understanding of the technical steps involved in the electoral process is critically important to ensuring broad acceptance of electoral results. The NEC should strive for consistent voter outreach throughout Sudan, since the familiarity of most Sudanese citizens with democratic elections processes is limited.

Voter registration

In large areas of Sudan, the rainy season will have already begun by June. In order to ensure effective enfranchisement across the whole country, the NEC should consider mechanisms that provide flexibility in case of weather-related disruption, such as a rolling voter registration. As the first large scale electoral event, the performance of the election management bodies in voter registration procedures will be a crucial benchmark against which the credibility of the electoral process will be measured. Observers from The Carter Center will be present across the country to witness the registration process.

Further, successful national elections will require that maximum efforts are made to register Sudanese citizens in all areas of the country, including Darfur and other areas. The NEC may need to consider special accommodations for registering voters in Darfur and any other regions with security concerns, areas hosting significant displaced populations, or other challenges.

Civil society engaged in voter and civic education and domestic observation

The complexity of Sudan's national elections will require substantial participation from civil society organizations, both national and international. Voter and civic education efforts are vital. The NEC should facilitate wherever possible the implementation of such efforts, respecting the substantial value that civil society can offer in this process. Domestic election observation and monitoring requires a framework of clear and consistent policies and accreditation procedures. The NEC should establish policies to enable the effective efforts of domestic observers without delay.

Release of census results and conclusion of North/South border demarcation

In order to meet the NEC electoral calendar, it is important for the GONU, through the institution of the Presidency, to come to agreement and release the census results and for the border demarcation process to be concluded between the CPA partners so as not to delay the electoral process further. While census and border demarcation issues are outside of the scope of the NEC, further delays will have a negative impact on the electoral process.

Implementation of the CPA with respect to the electoral process

Implementation of the CPA continues to proceed in the GONU, but progress is slow. Continued delay in the amendment and implementation of laws incompatible with the CPA and the Interim National Constitution threatens to undermine the electoral process. Reform and implementation of these laws is critical to ensuring key democratic rights of Sudanese citizens and civil society.

Similarly, although constitutionally guaranteed, freedoms of expression, association, and belief are not fully protected in Sudan. In order to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections,[1] additional steps are needed to ensure full protection for the freedom of individuals, associations, and political parties to legally campaign and not be unduly restricted. The use of emergency powers should be minimized at all stages of the electoral cycle.

Resolution of the situation in Darfur

Holding elections in Darfur will be a special challenge. Therefore, it is important that all steps are taken to include the region in all phases of the electoral process, including voter registration. Given widespread skepticism in Darfur concerning the operation of national political processes, the NEC and the GONU should make concerted efforts to build confidence in the electoral process among the region's population. In addition, needed resources must be made available to the NEC and to Darfur state election management bodies to address the significant logistical, security, and political challenges involved in administering elections in Darfur.

The Center urges all parties to renew efforts toward a peaceful settlement in Darfur, and to take all measures necessary to guarantee adequate conditions of physical and humanitarian security for all Sudanese such that they can participate freely in the entire electoral process.


The Center conducts its election observation in accordance with the Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation and Code of Conduct adopted at the United Nations in 2005. The Declaration of Principles can be read in Arabic and English at: 

[1] Sudan ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) on February 18, 1986. The ACHPR came into force on October 21, 1986 after its adoption in Nairobi (Kenya) in 1981 by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In addition, Sudan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on March 18, 1986, which entered into force on March 23, 1976.

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