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Credibility of Sudan's Vote Thrown into Further Doubt

The legitimacy of Sudan's elections has been thrown into further doubt following reports from observation teams the election will not meet international standards. Opposition parties in Khartoum say the vote was rigged and that they will not accept its results.

In a preliminary statement about the Sudan elections, the U.S.-based Carter Center said Saturday "it is apparent the elections will fall short of meeting international standards and Sudan's obligations for genuine elections in many respects."

In an interview with VOA in Juba while the polling was ongoing, U.S. president Jimmy Carter said when judging Sudan's imperfect elections, one must put the vote into proper context. "There have been some problems that would prevent this being an election that would meet international standards as far as free and fair and timely, but we have to remember that they have not had an election since 1986. And, secondly, you are in a geographic area that is enormous, one of the largest nations on earth, highly divided by war for 25 years and now divided geographically and politically into the northern and southern regions," he said.

The European Union election observation team said in a statement Saturday the election process "suffered from unprecedented complexity in its design and, consequently, from confusion in its implementation."

On Sunday, a domestic group of northern civil society observers called Tamam said it recorded widespread violations of electoral law during the voting process.

Sudan's first multiparty polls in 24 years started a week ago amid logistical problems, delays, and reported irregularities. In South Sudan, registered voters struggled to find their names on porous voter lists. In the north, opposition groups say blatant electioneering on the part of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has removed all credibility from the polls.

The opposition parties met late Saturday in Khartoum to decide their next course of action, but broke without finalizing retaliatory steps.

A South Sudan researcher for the Washington-based advocacy group Enough, Maggie Fick, says that it was clear before the vote started that the process was not likely to produce a credible election. "Even before the elections started it would have been difficult to say - even if everything had gone according to plan without technical difficulties - that the elections could have been free and fair," she said.

In March, the think-tank International Crisis Group accused Bashir's NCP of rigging the vote through blatant misuse of state resources and manipulating each step of the election process in its favor.

Both the Carter Center and the E.U. statements noted the elections were an important step in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Khartoum and the south's rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement. Under the deal, the elections are to be followed by a referendum in South Sudan on whether to split and form its own country.

In the interview, former president Carter said that without holding these elections, there would be no way to proceed to the promised southern referendum. He warned of renewed conflict if the peace deal collapsed before the independence vote.