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Sudanese President Accused of Rigging Elections

A leading international think-tank is expressing concern that Sudan's upcoming national elections are being rigged by Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir. The group says it fears that whomever wins next month's poll will be considered illegitimate.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group accuses the government in Khartoum of using flawed census figures to draft unfair election laws and skew electoral districts in favor of the ruling National Congress Party. The allegations are contained in a report the group released on Tuesday.

The think-tank says in Darfur, the ruling party went to great lengths to count its supporters in the 2008 census while making little effort to include the nearly 2.6 million people, who have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict there. Internally displaced persons from the region have also reportedly been unable or unwilling to register for the upcoming vote.

The Darfuri vote is critical in the upcoming election. The region holds nearly 20 percent of Sudan's population as well as 86 of the 450 seats in the national assembly. Rebel groups in the western region, protesting political and economic neglect, have been fighting the Sudanese government since 2003, and President Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the conflict.

Sudan Special Advisor to the International Crisis Group, Fouad Hikmat, says in his view, the flawed election process threatens prospects for any lasting peace in the embattled region.

"Unfortunately, the circumstances do not constitute a way to bring in Darfur into the peace process. It is still under emergency rule," he said. "There is no peace agreement. The situation is extremely dangerous in Darfur and if the elections are allowed to go ahead, given the current circumstances, it will not bring a legitimate government that is going to be accepted by the majority disenfranchised Darfurians," said Hikmat.

Prominent international organizations have called on Sudan to delay the polls in the face of these and other issues. U.S.-based organization Human Rights Watch has reported that opposition parties have had limited media access, making campaigning difficult.

There are also concerns that Sudan lacks the basic framework necessary to take an accurate poll. In addition to insecurity in Darfur, infrastructure in the south presents a major challenge. Southern Sudan has very few roads and limited funds, making ballot delivery extremely difficult in the impoverished region.

The U.S.-based Carter Center, which has been allowed to observe the process, has suggested that Sudan postpone the vote to ensure that it can be properly administered by the National Election Commission. The government says there is no reason for the delay as the necessary preparations have been completed.

The election is part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement forged between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement rebels and the government in 2005. The agreement ended two decades of conflict during which the predominantly African South sought independence from the Arab north. Part of the peace agreement stipulates that the South hold a referendum in January of 2011 to determine whether it will remain part of Sudan or form an independent nation.

President Bashir has stated that he would accept the result of the referendum regardless of the outcome. But he recently warned southerners that any boycott or delay of the April elections would threaten the referendum.

The vote in Sudan is scheduled to take place from April 11-13. President Bashir's main challengers are Yassir Arman and Sadiq al-Mahdi. Arman is a Muslim from the north representing the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. Mahdi was Sudan's last democratically elected Prime Minister before being ousted by Bashir in a 1989 military coup.