African Union observers have given tacit approval to elections in Sudan, while noting concerns about the suppression of human rights and low voter turnout. President Omar al-Bashir is widely expected to win the vote, which the opposition boycotted.
In a statement released at the end of voting Thursday, the AU electoral observation mission in Sudan said overall, this week’s national elections reflect the “expression of the will” of Sudanese voters.
Speaking to reporters, the head of the mission, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, said however, observers noted concerns that the suppression of human rights may have constrained participation.
“I said there are a few things that could have [been] taken that could have made the quality of fairness and freedom to have been enhanced. But I will not say it is absolutely unfree or unfair," he said. "Some measures could have been taken to enhance that."
The opposition boycotted the polls to protest what they say is political repression in the country.
Amnesty International and local activists say Sudanese security forces detained at least 20 political activists before and during the elections. At least some were released recently.
For many in Sudan, there was never much doubt that President Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party would come out on top of these elections, which has led to some apathy among voters.
Obasanjo said observers estimate only a 30-35 percent voter turnout, which was below what the government was expecting, despite extending polling by an extra day.
Earlier Thursday, presidential advisor Ibrahim Ghandour dismissed concerns about the low turnout.
“I can assure you that we are quite satisfied with the turnout of the people and those who are talking about a low turnout, they just don’t know what is going on or they deliberately are talking about a low turnout," he said.
Some Sudanese activists on social media have started referring to the low turnout as a “silent revolution” against President Bashir's government.
The 71-year-old leader first took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide committed by his forces in Darfur in the early 2000s.