April 19, 2010
The Carter Center has been deeply involved in Sudan since 1986, when we launched a program that increased the nation's annual wheat production from 160,000 to 1 million tons. Since then, we have had major health programs and efforts to promote peace and democracy. This current project is to monitor elections for local, state, and national offices throughout Sudan, plus separate ones for the ten states in South Sudan. Since the last real election was in 1986, this has been fraught with many difficulties. We have had observers here for more than two years.
This election was mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, and is to be followed by a referendum in South Sudan in January 2011 to determine if the region will remain as part of the nation or become a separate country. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has great advantages in the northern 15 states, having been in power since 1989 under the leadership of Omar Al-Bashir. In the south, the Southern Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) has similar advantages. Led by Salva Kiir, it may be most interested in the future referendum. We did not expect the election process to meet high international standards, but we strove for a peaceful process and attempted to determine if voters had an adequate opportunity to choose their leaders from among those who decided to remain in the contest.
There are more than a dozen other political parties and a number of independent candidates seeking office. A few major ones decided, at the last minute, not to participate in the electoral contests, the most significant of which is the Umma National Party headed by former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. The SPLM withdrew support for candidates in the northern states, including presidential candidate Yasir Arman, leaving President Al-Bashir with little opposition. Mubarak al-Fadil heads the Umma Reform and Renewal Party, and decided to withdraw, as did the Communists. Hassan al-Turabi is the leader of the Popular Congress Party (PCP), and its presidential candidate is Abdullah Deng Nhial. The PCP and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) under Mohamad Osman al-Mirghani remained active in the contest.
Members of the National Election Commission (NEC) were recommended by the major parties, and its nine members were unanimously approved by the National Assembly. Its chairman is a notable and respected former leader of the SPLM. The NEC reminded us that it was too late for any legal withdrawal from the election contest, and all candidates (about 15,000) would remain on the ballots, considered still running, and elected if they receive the most votes. This gives voters the opportunity to express their preference in all races.
Lakhdar Brahimi, Justice Joseph Warioba, and John Hardman joined me as co-chairs of our delegation. We deployed teams in rural and urban areas in all 25 states, except only in the capital cities within Darfur because of a lack of adequate security. Two generic concerns involved voters' lists and location of polling stations. The lists were modified by translation back and forth in two languages before final printing and late promulgation, just prior to election day. The number of voting sites was reduced from 21,200 to 16,500, ostensibly for security reasons, which increased voters in many stations to about 1,200. This made it difficult for many voters to find their names or proper voting place. More than in most of our previous 77 elections, observers also reported deviations from rules and regulations and some evidence of intimidation or manipulation, especially among the many illiterate voters.
Prior to election day we met with other international observer delegations (EU, Arab League, and Africa Union), leaders of domestic observer teams (there were about 10,000 deployed), the UN mission, National Election Commission, U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration, and leaders of the major parties, including President Bashir and those who had decided to withdraw from contention. We urged Bashir to be generous if he won, to observe meticulously terms of the CPA, and to work for a unity government. He promised to do so. Later, I met with two of his key advisors with whom I have worked for many years, Dr. Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani and Nafi Ali Nafi, and outlined a list of actions that would be needed to enhance human rights, resolve the Darfur tragedy, and promote national peace and unity.
I visited 40 polling stations in N. Sudan and 35 in S. Sudan, and the Carter Center observers covered 1,055 polling sites. In general, voters were enthusiastic and patient with the delays, and poll workers were well trained. Obvious problems were the difficulty of finding names on voter lists and lack of adequate voting supplies and ballot forms. The NEC soon decided to extend voting time to five days to permit alleviation of these problems.
We released our preliminary observations on April 17, and continued our work throughout the counting and tabulation of results. The people of Sudan and about 100,000 dedicated poll workers were congratulated on a peaceful election under the most difficult circumstances. It must be remembered that Sudan is a huge country, about 1200 miles north and south and 800 miles east and west. Until 2005 it had been involved in a civil war for almost a quarter century, had not had an election for 24 years, and was deeply divided by tribal, ethnic, religious, and political differences.
Despite many allegations from critics of the ruling parties in the North and South, we had no evidence of deliberate fraud by members of the NEC or others. We obtained an electronic copy of the complete voters' list and will attempt to determine if the logistical problems had patterns that were designed to shape the outcome of the many elections.
There were three basic reasons expressed to us for the decision by some opposition party leaders to withdraw from the elections: a) to prevent an Al Bashir defeat that might cause widespread violence and an end to the CPA and the S. Sudan referendum; b) to avoid the embarrassment of defeat by former top officials who had little support; and c) to discredit the entire process and avoid legitimizing Al Bashir's victory.
If the counting and final tabulation of results proceeds as well as the voting, the entire process will have exceeded expectations. Based on the mistakes observed, our final recommendations will be designed to improve future elections.
Our program of eradicating Guinea worm in S. Sudan will continue, hopefully with reduced threats of disruptive violence. In addition, it is likely that we will be asked to monitor the S. Sudan referendum, scheduled for Jan. 9, 2011.
With European airports closed by Iceland's volcanic eruption, we came home via Amman, Jordan and Chicago.