KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – Hard-pressed Sudanese election officials told staff to save time and stop entering results into a safeguard computer system, leaving vote counting open to fraud and error, international sources said on Saturday.
Sudan is days late in announcing the results of its first open elections in 24 years, a complex process already marred by boycotts and opposition accusations of vote rigging.
The elections, set up under a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war, were designed to help transform the oil-producing nation into a democracy ahead of a key 2011 southern referendum on secession.
Sudan’s National Elections Commission (NEC) told state polling committees to stop collecting data on computers and start sending in voting figures collated on paper, said the three sources, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The concern is that any way of tracking what’s going on and any control mechanisms are out of the window. They could write down anything on a bit of paper,” said one elections observer.
Sudan finished a five-day voting period last week and the final results of presidential, legislative and gubernatorial ballots were due on Tuesday.
Early results suggest a big win for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s dominant National Congress Party in the north and former rebels Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south.
NEC member al-Hadi Mohamed Ahmed denied it would make any difference to the result, “We are working by Internet, fax… anything — this is Sudan after all,” he said. “Some states don’t even have electricity.”
Mohamed Jaweesh, NEC head of IT, said staff shortages were among the problems delaying data input. “They were supposed to concurrently send the manually tabulated results and input into the system,” he told Reuters. “But now they will not wait for the system.”
One observer said the software had a number of “red flags” built in that would show up obviously wrong or suspicious figures, for example a voter turnout of more than 100 percent. “My understanding is that in various places, almost every result was going into quarantine because there was a query on it for some reason or another,” the observer said.
A second international source close to the voting system said the computer system had already shown up discrepancies. “Abandoning the automated system makes the entire results process extremely vulnerable to manipulation,” the source said, adding the NEC had been advised against the move.