April 13, 2010 (KHARTOUM) — The head of the Carter Center observation mission in Sudan, former US president Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) said that there was no proof of fraud in the Sudanese national elections currently underway running contrary to assertions made by opposition.
- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaks during an interview with Reuters in Juba, south Sudan April 13, 2010 (Reuters)
Carter told AFP that voters could not always find their names on electoral lists but he explained, "Those are administrative problems but no evidence of fraud so far as I know."
The former president, who is leading a team of 70 observers, also welcomed a decision by the National Election Commission (NEC) to extend by another two days the three-day vote that kicked off Sunday, saying that should be adequate to allow everyone to vote.
"There are some problems but they are trying to be corrected and I think it’s a very good decision by the NEC to extend the voting for two more days," he said, sitting under the welcome shade of a tree in Mugoro, south Sudan.
Voting kicked off on Sunday to a chaotic start, prompting the NEC to prolong the voting process by two-days to end on Thursday. The commission also announced today that it is freezing elections in some areas because of logistical issues.
Election monitors across Sudan said early voting had been affected by missing ballot boxes, poorly trained staff and confusion over the location of voting centers. Officials and observers also said that in both the south and north, names missing from the electoral register was a major problem.
A "preliminary statement" issued last month by the Carter Center on the final stages of Sudan’s electoral process referred to discrepancies in voters’ lists and omitted names which led to people being turned away from the polling stations where they were legally registered.
This particular problem which has been reported across all of South Sudan left would-be voters with the choice of either giving up or walking sometimes for miles to reach the next polling station to see if they can locate their names. The Vice-President of the semi-autonomous region of South Sudan had to visit five polling stations before finding his own name.
Carter’s observers foretold such problems when they stated on March 17th that they were "deeply concerned" that electronic version of the voters’ list had omitted "several hundred thousand names."
"Reports have surfaced of discrepancies in the handwritten voter registration booklets and the electronic voter registry. In one case, officials in Warrap have identified a difference of 78,000 in the number of registered voters in the registration books and the names inputted from the data center," the Center’s official statement read.
Also on March 17, the Carter Center referred to concerns associated with the printing of the ballots in Sudan rather than abroad. The ballots were printed in Khartoum. The observers said that the in-country printing "may weaken the security of the ballots."
Carter’s staff moreover warned that a "dramatic reduction" in the number of originally planned polling stations had reduced the likelihood of full participation, suggesting that polling stations "will struggle to process all those who wish to vote" and concluding that "even a moderate turnout will be challenging to accommodate during the prescribed three-day balloting period."
After the release of this assessment Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir threatened to expel international observers who push for a delay of the election. Despite this threat in March, and another in April to cut off observers’ tongues, Carter told AFP: "I don’t have any concern about safety; we haven’t had any threats at all to our observers."
The US Administration and Carter alike appear keen to endorse the conduct of the elections as a "milestone" toward the referendum for South Sudan’s independence in 2011. The US State Department assistant secretary Philip Crowley was asked in a press briefing last week whether "the U.S. is going to be ready to sign off on the results no matter how flawed the actual process"? He answered, "what’s the alternative?"
Crowley had said: "We’re talking about implementing specific obligations under the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] that lead to the important referenda that will occur next January. We want to see CPA implementation continue on schedule. This election is part of that process. …Ultimately, we think there’s value in giving the people of Sudan an opportunity to participate in a broader political process for the first time in a quarter century. That has value."
The support to the elections coming from both Carter in Sudan and the State Department in Washington has infuriated Sudanese opposition parties.
Before the polling began on Sunday, US presidential envoy Scott Gration made a bid to prevent opposition parties from boycotting the elections. He failed to convince the Umma Party and Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) Northern Sector from boycotting all levels of the poll. He had offered them to act as an intermediary with the National Elections Commission and other authorities in the event of irregularities. The opposition parties argue that the elections cannot be free and fair.
The boycotting opposition parties on Monday held a press conference to criticize the US backing for the nationwide election. In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday, erstwhile SPLM presidential candidate Yasir Arman said, "It is unfortunate that there are major figures, such as President Carter, contributing to cover these scandalous fraud and chaos of the National Election Commission."
Last week, the Umma Reform and Renewal Party (URRP) leader Mubarak Al-Fadil said at a press conference alongside Arman that the presence of foreign observers such as Carter Center and the European Union (EU) will contribute to granting legitimacy to the elections and enforcement of the status quo.
Al-Fadil further said that the observers did not disclose that the National Election Commission (NEC) refused to allow them to verify the voters records adding that it has not been printed up till now because names are still added to it. He and Arman said that the ruling party has intimidated the observers against trying to unveil any irregularities.
However today AL-Fadil was quoted by the independent Al-Tayar newspaper as saying that he expects Carter to provide a "truthful" assessment of the elections after they leave the country.
The elections mark a key stage in a 2005 north-south peace deal which ended Sudan’s 22-year civil war, and precede a 2011 referendum on southern independence. The semi-autonomous south is widely expected to secede.