As Sudan's opposition parties go back and forth over whether they will participate in next week's general elections [April 11-13], analysts in the United States say little good will come of the vote.
Low voter registration in many parts of Darfur, which still is experiencing fighting despite a ceasefire, a flawed census that has led to only partial voter rolls, accusations of fraud and near total media control by the ruling National Congress Party are only some of the challenges ahead of next week's elections.
Opposition parties in Sudan have started dropping out of some contests, including the presidential race, and they are asking that three days of voting, scheduled to begin on Sunday, be delayed.
"It will be extremely difficult to hold elections that can be regarded as a credible election. And so the election could well spark a further crisis in Sudan," saud Terrence Lyons, a Horn of Africa expert at George Mason University just outside Washington, D.C.
The presidential, legislative and local elections already have been delayed for two years because of the difficult implementation of the peace agreement between north and south Sudan. The accord ending more than two decades of war is supposed to lead to a referendum next year.
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Abubakr Elnoor from Darfur, a graduate student in the United States, says that like many opposition parties, he would have preferred that the elections be delayed further. "I do not want to have bad elections. I would rather prefer not to [hold them] because this election is going to give the government legitimacy to say, 'Hey, you have been arguing since 1989 that we came by coup d'etat, and right now we came by elections.' So I do not want to give them that legitimacy," he said.
Mark Davidheiser, who heads the U.S.-based Africa Peace and Conflict Network, says the elections are a missed opportunity for Sudan. But he adds that there are dangers in postponing the vote. "That can be actually kind of incendiary. That can really lead to outbreaks of violence and tensions can get so heightened by that. However, the opposite is also true with having an election that is widely acknowledged as bankrupt, or felt to be bankrupt. That undermines this whole institutional building project and breeds such cynicism, it sows seeds that can be dangerous in the long term," he said
J. Peter Pham is director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a New York-based group that promotes U.S. foreign policy interests. He says that despite last minute efforts by the international community, the elections could lead to more instability in Sudan, particularly in the southern part of the country. "Despite the wishful thinking on the part of some western capitals, including Washington, I think the election itself, the fiasco that it is going to be, is probably going to drive the momentum to push for independence and it will raise questions over whether a referendum can be held or whether independence is simply declared," he said.
Analysts say that this month's election will test the democratic credentials of semi-autonomous southern Sudan, which is run by the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement. In the run-up to the vote, dozens of arrests of supporters of independent candidates in the region have been reported, as well as several raids against radio stations and widespread intimidation.
Many opposition politicians across Sudan say they hope successful elections will help save the unity of their country. The electoral commission and the ruling party say the vote will begin on Sunday, and they deny allegations of tampering with the electoral process. U.S. officials, who also have been pushing for progress on a peace deal for Darfur, say they are talking to many sides in Sudan, pushing for a free and fair vote.