The State Department said Wednesday that it expects national elections in Sudan to go forward as planned next week, despite acknowledged flaws in the process. U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration is in Khartoum, trying to mediate pre-election disputes.
Officials here say it is clear that the multi-level Sudanese elections, the African country's first in 24 years, will be far from perfect.
But they say progress is being made by U.S. envoy Scott Gration and United Nations officials to resolve disputes, and that holding elections as scheduled will keep the country's north-south peace process on track.
Two days of presidential, parliamentary and regional voting begin on Sunday amid complaints and boycott threats by opposition parties that allege the Khartoum government will try to rig the vote.
The elections are a key part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord, or CPA, that ended a 21-year-long north-south civil war and are an essential prelude to a referendum set for next January on whether the semi-autonomous southern region will become fully independent.
U.S. officials in recent days have expressed sympathy with opposition factions that advocate delaying the vote by a month.
But briefing reporters on Wednesday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that despite the problems, having the elections proceed on time would be the best course, so that preparations for the crucial referendum can begin immediately afterwards.
"We are talking about developing institutions that are critically important to the future of Sudan. We are talking about implementing specific obligations under the CPA that lead the important referenda that will occur next January. We want to see CPA implementation continue on schedule. This election is part of that process. We understand that there are going to be problems. We understand that there are going to be flaws in this election," he said.
Crowley said American and other international election observers will not hesitate to point out shortcomings, but that the United States will reserve judgment on the fairness of the vote.
The European Union said Wednesday it is withdrawing its team of monitors from the troubled western Darfur region because of fears for their safety.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, meanwhile, has threatened to expel observers who push to delay the vote. He reportedly has threatened physical harm to observers who "insult" Sudan.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's Atlanta-based Carter Center, which has fielded an observer team, says the elections are "at risk on multiple fronts" and urged a limited delay.
The Save Darfur Coalition, an association of nearly 200 human rights and advocacy groups, warns that the elections will not be free, fair or credible. It cautions against supporting an electoral process that would legitimize what it calls the "dictatorial rule" of President al-Bashir.
U.S. envoy Gration, a former U.S. Air Force general, is meeting with government and opposition party officials to try to resolve election disputes. He has no direct contact with President al-Bashir, who faces international war crimes charges stemming from the Darfur conflict.