Will the elections take place or will they be postponed? This is the question that is dominating the Sudanese arena just days before the first “multi-party” elections in 24 years are due to take place. The opposition parties believe that there are many violations taking place in the preparations [for the elections] and are violently criticizing the electoral commission and accusing it of being subordinate to the government and even of conspiring with the government to rig the elections. The electoral commission responded to these charges by accusing the opposition forces of blaming its problems on others because it was “asleep” and failed to prepare for the elections. For its part, the government and its ruling party is insisting on holding the elections as scheduled on 11 April and it says that it will sweep the elections in the first round by 80 percent, according to comments made by presidential assistant, Nafie Ali Nafie.
The reality is that it is unlikely that the elections will be postponed and at the same time this would be ineffective. It is unlikely because there are three main parties that do not want this to happen. The first party is of course the ruling party, which has all the tools of power and believes that the conditions are ripe for it to win “electoral legitimacy” 24 years after it came to power through a coup d’etat, especially as opposition forces are still suffering from fragmentation and weakness and that the south, which represents a strong centre for the opposition, is preoccupied with arranging the referendum on self-determination that is scheduled to take place in January 2011.
The second party that does not favor postponing the elections is the SPLM, which is a partner in government and the party in control of the government in the south. It categorically rejects any electoral postponement as this would lead to postponing the referendum on self-determination. The [presidential] candidate of the ruling party, Omar al Bashir, sought to block any move by the SPLM to support the opposition in the north by threatening to postpone the referendum on self-determination if it [the SPLM] decides to boycott [the elections] in the context of any potential move that the opposition parties may undertake if their proposal to postpone the election is rejected.
The third party that opposes any postponement to the elections is the West, and the United States and EU states in particular. This is based on [the idea that] holding elections, regardless of all the imperfections in the preparations, is better than postponing the elections, which opens the door to the possible problems that might reflect on the self-determination referendum and lead to confrontations and perhaps even the outbreak of a new war between the north and south. The West believes that there are many arrangements that must be completed before and after the referendum in the south, especially if the south votes for secession, which is the likely option. In the West’s view, regardless of the election results, the elections will move the Sudanese arena towards what might lead to more openness and at the same time they will give legitimacy to the upcoming referendum in the south and will provide the opportunity for discussion and resolving the pending issues between the north and south.
Based on the positions of these three parties, the chances of postponing the elections in Sudan are extremely slim. This gives the opposition parties two options; they either take part in the elections after having recorded the violations in the hope that their plan that the electors vote for [different] candidates thus preventing Omar al Bashir from winning in the first round succeeds, or they can boycott the elections which is unlikely to push the government to cancel the electoral process thus making this an ineffective step. The government will definitely exploit any boycott of the elections to portray the opposition as attempting to escape from facing the voter because it has become weak and has lost any influential presence on the ground. The government will say that it has undertaken the “democratization” process and that its victory, even in light of the absence of rivals, gives it legitimacy to implement its plans in the post-referendum period to rule the north individually and change the political fabric and perhaps even the ruling formula which will implement the original plan for the Islamic front when it carried out its coup in 1989.
For all these reasons, perhaps it is better for the Sudanese opposition parties to look at these elections – with all its shortcomings – as an opportunity to continue the current political momentum to rebuild communication with its bases, and prepare the public to request more political openness in the country, especially as in this period it is still getting support from the southern ally. Moreover, these parties will gain more sympathy if it emerges that they lost the elections because of vote rigging and fraud. Therefore the public will support these movements and their demands for the sake of real democracy. Without a doubt this is better than just boycotting.