Sudan is to begin three days of voting Monday in general elections that are all but certain to usher in another five-year term for President Omar al-Bashir. But opposition and international groups have said an oppressive political environment in Sudan puts the credibility of the polls in doubt.
There is no doubt that Bashir and his National Congress Party will be the ultimate winners of the election.
For one, the opposition is boycotting the polls and the president faces no real challenger. But that has not stopped Bashir from pressing his political agenda and promoting the achievements of his administration.
At his final campaign rally Thursday at Khartoum National Stadium, Bashir promised peace and development, touted his country’s military contributions to the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen, and took a swipe at his Western critics.
“We thank god that our (foreign) relations are excellent,” he said. “We have some problems with Western countries. You people know what these countries were, these were colonialist countries. ... They want people to bow down and to kiss their hands, but we will not do that," Bashir said.
Took power in 1989
The 71-year old leader first came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
Wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of genocide committed by armed forces in the Darfur region of Sudan, he is unwelcome in the West and widely condemned by human rights groups.
But domestically, Bashir has been riding high on improved ties in the region, following a new agreement with Egypt and Ethiopia on the use of the Nile River they all share.
Sudanese writer and academic Magdi el-Gizouli, speaking to VOA by Skype from Germany, said stronger ties with Saudi Arabia is also playing into the president’s favor.
“One large chunk of Bashir’s propaganda is to say that we have improved relations with Riyadh and we are expecting the rewards. Probably there will be some rewards, but probably not as large as he claims them to be," Gizouli said.
There is still much discontent at home.
Fighting has intensified between Sudanese forces and rebel groups in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, near the border with South Sudan in recent weeks.
Crackdown on media
Amnesty International said the Sudanese intelligence and security forces also have stepped-up a crackdown on the media and civil society this year.
The government confiscated print copies of newspapers in the country more than 52 times last year while numerous civil society organizations have been shut down or raided.
The opposition has boycotted this election, as many did in 2010, citing concerns about a lack of political space, continued suppression of critical voices and the government’s backtracking on an inclusive national dialogue.
Deputy chair of the opposition National Umma Party Fadul Allah Burma Nasir told VOA they do not trust the election will be fair.
“Surely as they have done in 2010, we consider that now the National Congress Party are just like people who are a one man show. They are running alone in the field. Nobody is running with them," Nasir said.
Foreign observers have also cast doubt on the credibility of the polls.
The European Union, which sponsored the 2010 Sudan elections, declined to support this year’s poll saying in a statement last week that when “civil and political rights are infringed, the upcoming elections cannot produce a credible result.”
Sudan’s foreign ministry summoned the EU representative over those remarks.