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Observers Offer Contrasting Views on Sudan’s Polls

In Sudan, counting continues after last week’s national elections. Today, the US government reiterated what had earlier been stated by international election observer groups like the Carter Center and the EU observer team; mainly that the elections were marred by irregularities.

Ali B. Ali-Dinar is the grandson of the last king of Darfur, Sultan Ali-Dinar, and the associate director of the African Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He says that the idea of holding the elections in Sudan was good, but marred by the influence of the ruling National Congress Party.

“The elections were rigged from the beginning,” he said, ”so the results do not necessarily reflect the will of the majority of the people.”

Many analysts agree that the elections in Sudan were relatively peaceful compared to polls in other African countries. There have been few reports of election violence in Sudan though some incidents of voter intimidation and harassment have been cited.

Ali-Dinar says that elections are not entirely new to Sudan, a fact that could explain the relatively peaceful vote. He says for decades, the country has had at least two well-known parties that often competed for power, the Umma and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) . They participated in several multi-party elections until the the coup in 1989 that toppled the last democratically elected government.

“Even during the time of dictatorship,” he says, “people didn’t not lose allegiance to their political parties.”

He has little confidence in a government of national unity, an idea that was recently floated by the ruling NCP spokesman Nefie Al Nefie.

He says such a government would not compensate for a flawed vote that denied people a true choice.

“If you are really genuine in having a say…then hold free and fair elections,” says Ali-Dinar.

Observer groups have issued differing views of the vote. The AU observer mission and Arab League both say the elections were ‘”free and fair.”

However, the Carter Center and the European Union observer team say the polls failed to “meet international standards” due to reported election irregularities. Ali-Dinar says the different backgrounds of the observer teams explain the differing findings. He suggests that the standards of Western democracies are stricter than those in other parts of the world.

“In many African countries, elections are rigged, there is always violence…in Arab countries, the elections are [often] controlled by the government in power,” he says.

He adds that if African and Arab observers are measuring the success of the vote by the lack of violence, “they will conclude that the elections were free and fair.“

He criticizes both groups for ignoring the alleged manipulation of the vote by the ruling party from the beginning.