Last week marked the first multi-party elections held in Sudan in 24 years, stipulated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. In the race for president the incumbent, International Criminal Court-indicted Omar al-Bashir, appears to be headed to an overwhelming victory.
Much is at stake in these Sudanese elections, seen as a crucial step on the road to the 2011 referendum which will decide the secession of Southern Sudan. International observers have now reported that Sudan’s elections will not meet international standards. Opponents in the north have complained about Bashir’s manipulation of the electoral process.
In the south, major opposition parties dropped out in the weeks leading up to the election, causing wide-spread confusion. Technical problems prevented some from voting, as polling stations faced long delays in opening, and many voters had to wait for two or three hours in extreme 45 degree heat to cast their ballots. Despite these obstacles, the election period, ending April 16, has largely passed peacefully.
With the voting over, attention will shift to the January 2011 referendum, which threatens to further destabilize Sudan. The next year will be a critical test for security sector reform (SSR) efforts in Southern Sudan, as related violent conflict has already occurred and will only increase in the disputed territories as January 2011 approaches. Former US President Jimmy Carter has warned that conflict could return if the peace agreement collapses before the referendum takes place.