Elections in Sudan: A Step Forward?

Despite concerns, including doubts raised by one of the major parties from Darfur, the National Election Commission of Sudan has continued planning for national elections in April 2010. Three days of polling are set to begin in Sudan on April 11th. The newly-elected president and parliament should be announced a week later.

A leader from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM, a rebel group from Darfur), chief Khalil Ibrahim, has urged the President of Sudan to delay the elections so that Darfur can participate fully. President Omar al-Bashir has responded that Darfur is now secure and stable, and that elections will not be postponed.

To read more about the candidates, click here >>

On February 23rd, the JEM signed a framework agreement with the Sudanese government in Qatar that provides for a temporary ceasefire between the two sides and a crucial power-sharing agreement. Nevertheless, Ibrahim has said that most people in Darfur and Kordofan are still displaced from their homes and have little interest in taking part in elections. He stressed that holding the general elections now will exclude four million people making it meaningless for the Darfur population.

For more on the negotiations, click here >>

While the government in Khartoum has agreed to power-sharing with the JEM, the rest of Darfur’s rebel movement has splintered badly, spawning a civil war within a civil war. While some of the smaller groups are taking their turn talking to the government, the other main rebel group from Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army, is still refusing to talk.

Observers in Southern Sudan say any delay in the elections will cast doubts over the referendum on self-determination in the south of the country set for 2011. The referendum was guaranteed in a peace agreement signed five years ago between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) based in the south.

Southern Sudan: a crisis in numbers
2500 Inter-ethnic clash fatalities in 2009
400000 People displaced by these clashes
7 States, out of 10, where clashes occurred
2.7m Small arms in circulation
4.3m People who will need food aid some time in 2010
1.5m People facing severe food insecurity (up from 1m)
85.00% Proportion of health services provided by NGOs
85.00% Rate of illiteracy
57.9 Life expectancy at birth
14.80% Global acute malnutrition rate
2054 Maternal mortality per 100,000 live births
48.00% Population lacking clean water
15.80% Primary school enrolment


For all the much-warranted focus on Darfur, the greater challenge since independence has been the civil war in the South, which claimed 2 million lives and displaced millions more people. The elections themselves are a key part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s 22-year long civil war between north and south. Tensions remain high in the south, however, with clashes continuing between rival ethnic groups. More than 2,500 people were killed and almost 400,000 displaced in 2009 alone. The violence affected seven of the region’s 10 states, according to the United Nations.

To read more about tensions in southern Sudan, click here >>

The SPLM has refused any move to postpone the referendum process and several observers fear a return to civil war should the referendum process be disrupted. But many post-referendum issues have yet to be addressed, particularly nationality, national debt, and resource sharing (oil and water), while the border demarcation process remains well behind schedule.

For more on these challenges, click here >>

The current atmosphere surrounding the elections is one of intense mistrust, and security remains a major issue. Many in the south remain focussed on the referendum for independence slated for January 2011. However, successful elections are a vital stepping stone towards a peaceful future for Sudan, whatever the outcome of the referendum. “Credible elections are crucial for a smooth post-election transition to the referendum,” the Secretary General of the UN has said. “A credible process will also reduce the possibility of election-related violence and will help to legitimize bodies that will oversee the referendum processes.”

For more information, please contact John Lewis, International Human Rights, KAIROS, at jlewis@kairoscanada.org or 1-877-403-8933 ext. 224

Filed in: Africa

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