News / Africa

South Sudan Ruling Party Not Joining Calls for Election Delay

Northern opposition parties allege elections will not be fair under current conditions

Alan Boswell

The ruling party of South Sudan says southerners are "ready" for April elections and that it is not supporting calls from northern opposition parties for the vote to be postponed.

Sudan People's Liberation Movement Deputy Secretary-General Anne Itto told reporters in Juba the party in charge of South Sudan wants elections held on time.

"We are not only concerned about delays of election that might affect the [independence] referendum, but we feel like this is the time for elections, and our people are ready, and we do not want our people to be disappointed. SPLM has never requested for elections to be delayed," Itto said.

Following a meeting Saturday between an opposition alliance composed of northern parties and SPLM, reports circulated that SPLM had joined the northern opposition in calling for Sudan's April vote to be postponed until November.

South Sudan leader Salva Kiir will be meeting Tuesday with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to discuss concerns about the fairness of the upcoming vote.

Itto said points of concern raised by the opposition forces are "genuine," but that resolving them does not necessarily require pushing back the polls.

"Other political parties have issues, but most of them can be addressed without having to postpone the elections.  We want those issues addressed, but it does not mean that we want elections postponed. We recognize there are issues, but they can be addressed," Itto said.

The Northern opposition parties allege elections will not be free and fair under the current environment.

The parties are calling for the reform of a number of state security and media laws, and for the resolution of the Darfur conflict and a finalized border demarcation between the North and South as prerequisites to national elections.

Itto said Mr. Kiir will discuss with Mr. Bashir concerns over the fairness of ballots printed in Khartoum, the abilities of international observers to freely monitor the vote, and feared presidential powers to declare a state of emergency.  

The upcoming elections were agreed to as part of a 2005 peace deal between Bashir's Khartoum government and the SPLM, when the party was still an active rebel movement. Any delay in postponing the elections would likely require the tacit approval of both peace partners, but both Mr. Bashir and the SPLM have now brushed back calls to postpone the vote.

South Sudan is to hold an independence referendum in January 2011.  At a recent regional summit in Nairobi, Mr. Kiir said the upcoming elections are not a requirement for the referendum.  But Itto acknowledged that SPLM remains concerned that any further delay in the elections - originally slated for last year - will threaten the date of the South's prized secession vote.

"Already, the elections have been delayed by almost eight, nine months.  Any further delay of the election would affect our preparation for the referendum, and the referendum has a lot of preparation, even much more than the elections," Itto said.

The two-decade North-South war killed an estimated two-million people, mostly Southerners.

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