Vote Monitoring Group Raises Alarm About Sudan Registration Drive
Vote Monitoring Group Raises Alarm About Sudan Registration Drive
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The election monitoring team for the Carter Center in Sudan is raising concerns that its workers are not being accredited to observe the massive voter registration drive that began this week. The registration process is slated to end in a month's time and is supposed to pave the way for the nation's first free national elections in 24 years.

The elections are scheduled for April after having been pushed back twice. The vote was originally set for July 2009.

The democratic exercise was agreed to amid international pressure as part of the 2005 peace pact between North and South Sudan. A southern independence referendum is set to take place shortly after, in January 2011.

Most analysts believe that a failed election would severely lessen the chance of a peaceful referendum.

Aly Verjee, the deputy director of the Carter Center's election monitoring mission in Sudan, says that despite having been formally invited to observe the election process, the national election commission is not being fully cooperative.

"On an individual person-by-person basis, nobody has accreditation. The organization itself has been invited, but officially no individual has the right to observe registration at this point," he said.

The group has been in Sudan since February 2008 but is bringing in additional people to observe the national registration drive. The Center says that despite the lack of accreditation, it has still been able to partly monitor the registration process.

A number of immense obstacles lie in the path of the voter registration plan. These include rural inaccessibility, communication challenges, and sticky issues regarding the status of displaced persons, most notably those from the western region of Darfur.

Verjee says that while the month timeframe is "certainly ambitious," the success of the process will most likely depend on whether the local administrators of the drive are given the resources necessary to do their job.

The voter registration process is just one of the many outstanding issues that must be addressed before free elections can take place in April.

The two parties continue to disagree over the use of census results which the South and outside observers say had serious flaws. Opposition parties and civil society members are also calling for reforms in security laws, which they say will give Khartoum too much power to squelch free political speech. Agreement has also yet to be reached on the participation of Sudanese nationals living abroad.

In a status report released by the Carter Center in August, the group noted the number of matters left to be resolved but warned against postponing the elections any further, noting that seasonal rains in May and June would cause major logistical challenges for a proper vote.

Verjee asserted that a problem-free election is not the goal.

"I think it's clear that this election is not going to be perfect, but that's perhaps not what is required," he said. "What's required is that we have an election that satisfies minimum conditions and delivers some of the change that's codified in the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]."

He described his team's relationship with the election commission as a "work in progress."