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Sudan Voter Registration Begins Under Cloud of Apathy

  • Reuters

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses the general conference of the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum, Oct. 23, 2014.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses the general conference of the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum, Oct. 23, 2014.

Sudan began registration on Tuesday for its first elections since the south of the country won independence, but many voters said they would ignore polls they believe are guaranteed to extend the 25-year rule of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, Bashir had promised to step down in April's presidential and parliamentary elections.

But the ruling National Congress Party named him on Saturday as its presidential candidate, dashing hopes that the vote would mark a new start for a country facing diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and armed insurrection in five provinces.

Some Sudanese, alarmed by the chaos that has engulfed Libya and Syria, say they would prefer stagnation under Bashir to an unknown future if he stepped aside. Even so, they may not bother to sign up to parliamentary and presidential elections whose results they say are a foregone conclusion.

“I will not participate because they are not free elections. The outcome is known and Bashir is the next president,” 70-year-old pensioner Ibrahim Ali said after Bashir's renomination.

Bashir, a former military commander who rules in an alliance with hardline Islamists, has contested three elections since coming to power in 1989.

He won 68 percent of the vote in the last polls in 2010, according to government figures, though international monitors cast doubt on the fairness of that election.

This time, the economy will play a much bigger role for those who choose to go to the polls. Sudan's economy has been in free fall since the oil-rich southern third of the country seceded in 2011 and the government has slashed services and subsidies as its foreign exchange reserves shrink.

With inflation at 40 percent, voters are concerned with finding jobs and feeding their families.

“I am sure the elections will not change anything in my life and will not provide us with jobs after graduation,” university student Samia Ibrahim said. “Bashir is the next president and my voice does not mean anything. Can anyone but Bashir win?”

With the three main opposition parties boycotting the elections along with smaller liberal and communist parties, many are asking the same question. Candidate registration will take place at the end of December, when it will become clearer who will participate.

Leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi repeated his call for a boycott on Tuesday, and suggested that Bashir should be offered the chance to avoid trial by the International Criminal Court if he relinquished power.

Bashir has denied ICC charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide relating to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, and refuses to go before the Hague-based court.

His government has dismissed concerns that the April election results are a foregone conclusion.

“Today we begin the electoral process, and we are committed to transparency and neutrality,” Mukhtar al-Asim, president of the National Election Commission said.

The Commission said it hoped to attract wider participation this time round, with registration open for the next two weeks.

The number of eligible voters at the last presidential elections was 19.8 million, according to official figures. About 10 million people, or just over half, cast their ballots then.

“I didn't know the electoral process begins on Tuesday... I didn't even register my name for the last elections and I won't do it now,” Mohamed Saleh, an engineer at a private company said. “There are no real elections in Sudan. This is just a recurring farce.”