Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sudan: Incumbent Bashir set to win next week's polls

Khartoum - Sudan heads to the polls next week in elections widely expected to extend President Omar al-Bashir's quarter-century of rule, despite continued unrest and a faltering economy.

Bashir is facing 15 little-known challengers in the vote, which takes place over three days starting from Monday but main opposition parties are boycotting.

Rights groups have accused the 71-year-old Bashir of crushing dissent with a crackdown on the media and civil society.

In the capital Khartoum, there are few signs the presidential and parliamentary elections are days away, despite official figures showing 44 parties are taking part.

Bashir's face looms from billboards lining main streets but only a few flyers for other candidates are up around the city.

"The election is being boycotted by most opposition parties, the [ruling] National Congress Party is the only real contender for this election. So you can't really expect any surprises," said Khaled al-Tijani, an analyst and newspaper editor.

Career soldier Bashir took power in an Islamist-backed takeover in 1989, the last in a series of coups that marked Sudan after its independence from joint British and Egyptian rule in 1956.

He has since overseen the country's split with South Sudan after a 22-year civil war, but faces continued unrest on several fronts.

A rebellion in the western Darfur region erupted in 2003, where ethnic insurgents complained of marginalisation, that has left some 300 000 dead.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Rebels vow to disrupt vote

Insurgencies have also broken out in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, led by former allies of south Sudanese rebel forces, and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North has vowed to stop voting across the whole of the two regions.

Officials have insisted the rebels will not disrupt the vote, but the election will not take place in one district of Darfur and seven in South Kordofan for security reasons.

Despite the continued threats, Bashir has promised on the campaign trail that his next term "will be one of security and political and economic stability for Sudan".

He has made few concrete policy promises but has vowed to boost development of Sudan's struggling economy, which for years has suffered from international isolation.

The United States imposed a trade embargo in 1997 over alleged rights abuses and sanctions over Khartoum's sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for five years in the early 1990s.

More than three quarters of the country's oil reserves were also lost with South Sudan's split.

With only a few weeks to go before the vote, Sudan last month agreed to join the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite rebels in Yemen, a move Tijani said may be aimed at giving the economy a boost.

"The coalition in the war in Yemen could ease the economic situation in Sudan, which may be expecting to get some assistance from Saudi Arabia," he said.

After years of divisions, opposition groups came together in December to present a united front against Bashir, forming a movement dubbed Sudan Call.

Led by the main opposition Umma party, Sudan's oldest political grouping, Sudan Call agreed to hold talks with the ruling NCP in Addis Ababa in late March to arrange a national dialogue.

Boycott is 'only way'

But the NCP snubbed the meeting and said the talks would take place after the elections.

Two top opposition leaders, Farouk Abu Issa and Amin Makki Madani were arrested in December after signing up to Sudan Call and are facing potential charges of seeking to overthrow the government.

Security forces have also targeted the media and civil society groups, with agents in February seizing the print runs of 14 dailies in one day without explanation, in one of the broadest press crackdowns in years.

The opposition says it has been left with no choice but to refuse to take part in the vote.

"We think the only way out is to boycott the elections," said Mariam al-Mahdi, the Umma party's deputy head.

"We are following civil resistance and civil paths to challenge the regime."

The presidential election could theoretically go to a second round if no candidate wins a first round majority. Officials have said final results will be released in late April.


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