As election officials continue to count and re-count ballots following five days of voting for Sudan's national elections (April 11-15), international and Sudanese observers are already questioning the legitimacy of the results. There have been widespread accusations of fraud, ballot-box stuffing, and voter intimidation, despite the presence of election observers from the UN, the EU, the Carter Center, and the African Union Observer Mission, along with domestic NGOs and advocacy groups. Some opposition parties boycotted the election altogether, and several candidates had dropped out before voting even began, all but ensuring that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP) will remain in power.
Carter Center and EU officials say that the election "fall[s] short of international standards," and Washington is blaming Sudan's National Election Committee (NEC) for a failure to prevent "serious irregularities" in voting conditions and procedures.
The Enough Project, an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, used YouTube to surface the grainy video below, dated Monday, April 19, which appears to show election officials stuffing ballot boxes. The NEC has flatly denied its legitimacy and has refused to investigate. The footage has not been independently verified, and no representatives of any of the organizations conducting independent observations could be reached for comment.
Here, men appearing to be election officials, identifiable by their orange vests on top of traditional Sudanese clothing, are stuffing stackfuls of paper cards into plastic ballot boxes sealed with orange tape.
In its preliminary findings, the African Union Observer Mission to the Sudan Elections found that, while "there was an impressive presence of party agents and representatives of candidates..., the polling staff showed high professional conduct and commitment to their duties. The staff followed the prescribed procedures for voting and remained steadfast throughout the duration of the polling."
The National Election Commission has been unfazed by the claims, and mounting evidence, of fraud. The same officials who scoffed at the now-notorious ballot-stuffing video ("We will not investigate anything that appears on the Internet.") are now entrusted with counting the votes. Rigging aside, al-Bashir's win was virtually assured from the outset: more than 50 percent of the votes are required to win the presidency, and with 11 other candidates in the field, it's unlikely that any other candidates among a divided opposition would survive a run-off.
In the lead-up to the election, opposition parties have ostensibly been free to organize and campaign, but their ability to build any substantial voter base with which to oppose al-Bashir and the NCP has been limited by lack of funds, inexperience with political organization, poor public support, censorship of the mainstream media, and widespread police intimidation. (See video here.)
The pressure now on election officials -- if not their mandate -- is to keep the incumbent in power in a way that appears legitimate, projects resounding support, and props up al-Bashir's credibility with the international community, where many see him as nothing more than a rank despot and war criminal. Russia has already given its tepid blessing, deeming the elections successful "by African standards."
With a referendum in 2011 that could split the oil-rich south from al-Bashir's Arab base in the north, the president needs to prop himself up with any legitimacy he can muster, however false. The ruling NCP is unlikely to give up any ground to its main rival, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), or its allies. The southern Sudanese strongly favor secession, and any political clash between al-Bashir and the pro-secession coalition stands to revive recently abated north-south tensions in Darfur -- and could lead to another round of bloodshed and mass population displacement.
Sudan's multi-party election for presidential, parliamentary, and local seats is the first of its kind in nearly a quarter of a century, part of a 2005 peace agreement between the SPLA (the military arm of the SPLM) and al-Beshir's NCP. Two million people were killed and 4 million displaced during the 22-year civil war, and the conflict between the Christian SPLA and the Arab-Muslim Khartoum government continues today in Darfur.