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Former Rebels Propose Postponing Sudan’s General Elections

The former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) says logistical problems and environmental condition would render this year's general elections impossible to undertake. The SPLM says it is contemplating calling a meeting with Sudan President Hassan Al Bashir's National Congress Party to arrange a possible change in the election date. Some political analysts say this year's democratic elections, the first in 23 years, was a vital element of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which is believed to have helped end more than two decades of conflict between north and south. The analysts also said that any significant delay could potentially undermine the peace agreement and plunge the country into crisis.

Fouead Hikmat is the project director for the Horn of Africa of the International Crisis group. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum that conditions on the ground would make it impossible to hold an election on the initial date agreed upon by both parties.

"As an observer to the development in Sudan regarding the possibility of running the election in mid 2009, I think there are two important points, and the first point is the logistical concern and the second point is related to the environment and the conditions for a fair election. According to the two parties, they just recently agreed on the electoral law after a very long debate and discussion and agreement and disagreements," Hikmat noted.

He said the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) stipulates the date for general elections.

"According to the constitution and according to the CPA, within 30 days after the electoral law is passed by the parliament and signed by the presidency, then the National Electoral Commission should be established. And the National Electoral Commission is mandated by the constitution to start to hold elections from A to Z according to the law," he said.

Hikmat said there was need to be pragmatic about Sudan's general elections.

"I think the driving argument for the decision is going to be the practicality of it, I don't think it is going to be feasible for any of the parties to push their own interest or to push their own point because logistically there is a constraint. The second point is the environment there and by the environment I'm talking about the democratic environment that there is a fair election in Sudan. At the moment there are a couple of issues that needs to be addressed very seriously, and it forms part of the implementation of the CPA, the reform of the police law and the security law and the media law and all those sorts of things, where the other democratic parties would also have their share in the media and so on and so forth," Hikmat pointed out.

He said the Comprehensive Peace Agreement gives room for maneuver if conditions are not conducive for a general election.

"Actually the CPA allows that option to say that given the situation and the conditions are not in favor of starting the elections. The two parties have the right to delay the election by one-year maximum… so you can go into the fourth year, but even after that also they could also then decide when that happens, but that is part of the implementation of the CPA. It is not working outside of the CPA, but according to the CPA," he said.