KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – Sudan’s elections commission on Saturday said the first multi-party polls would go ahead on time, dashing an opposition party’s demands for a four-week delay to address complaints of irregularities in the process.
The main candidates for the presidential elections, apart from the opposition Umma party leader, withdrew from the race this week, saying the vote was already “rigged” for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to win.
Umma head Sadeq al-Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected leader, listed eight demands including a four-week delay to be agreed to before April 6, or his party would boycott all parts of the presidential, legislative and gubernatorial votes. “The National Elections Commission (NEC) is working to have the elections on the dates we specified on April 11, 12, 13,” deputy head of the NEC, Abdallah Ahmed Abdallah, told reporters after meeting U.S. envoy Scott Gration.
“The NEC confirmed to Gration that it had completed all the necessary procedures to have the elections on the specified dates,” he added.
The Umma party leader said on Friday Gration had told him he would try to achieve the four-week delay. He flew into Khartoum after the opposition boycott threats.
Washington acknowledges problems with the process, but wants the polls to happen on time, to allow work to begin on preparing for a southern referendum on secession in January 2011.
The State Department said Gration would continue to press for maximum participation in the polls.
On Saturday, Bashir told a campaign rally in the eastern town of Kassala there would be no delay. Last month he threatened to expel international observers who asked for a delay. “They (the NEC) have given me a lot of information that gives me confidence that the elections will start on time and that they will be as free and fair as possible,” Gration told reporters. “This has been a difficult challenge but I believe they have stepped up and met the challenge.”
South Sudan’s leading party triggered the election crisis on Wednesday by withdrawing its presidential candidate, seen as Bashir’s main competition, and boycotting all levels of polls in Darfur because of the conflict there.
The decision by the ex-rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) threw the opposition into disarray with little consensus arising on whether to join the boycott and to what degree.
Bashir wants to win the elections to legitimise his rule, in defiance of an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Darfur, after a brutal counter-insurgency campaign begun in 2003.
The United Nations estimates 300,000 died in the humanitarian crisis sparked by more than 2.5 million fled their homes after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms accusing central government of neglect.