By Zechariah Manyok Biar
April 2, 2010 — The election crisis in Sudan is threatening the stability that the country enjoyed over the last four years. Opposition groups, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that has now withdrawn its national presidential candidate, seem determined to boycott the elections this month. There are many reasons of potential rigging that would justify the decision of the opposition groups to boycott the elections. The question is how such a boycott would affect the 2011 Referendum that South Sudanese care about more than they care about April elections. The opposition groups do not seem to have concrete solution to both the postponing of elections and the holding of the 2011 Referendum as scheduled.
In their recent meeting, the oppositions gave the following recommendations as conditions for their participations in elections: find a just and comprehensive solution to the Darfur crisis as well as allow for the participation of its peoples in the elections, fulfill the major tenets of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement particularly those parts related to democratic transformation, the sustainability of peace in the south and achieving voluntary unity, review the current Electoral Act with the objective of addressing the gaps and shortcomings that have appeared upon implementation, form a new National Election Commission from persons who are known for their integrity independence and competence, and conduct the Referendum on Self Determination as originally planned in January 2011 as well as public consultations in each of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The opposition groups also demand that elections be held in November this year.
One wonders how realistic these conditions are. We need to go deep into the above conditions and see what would be behind some of them. In this case, we have to consider the fact that the opposition groups in Sudan may have their different interests as well as some few shared interests. The clash of these interests may be disadvantageous to a sustainable solution of Sudanese problems.
The Northern opposition parties, on the one hand, claim that they share the idea that there is a need for a democratic rule in Sudan. But they will not all agree on the importance of the holding of the 2011 Referendum in the South when the current government of the National Congress Party (NCP) is still in power. South Sudanese under SPLM, on the other hand, do not care about whether the current government is voted out or not, they only care about the 2011 Referendum.
So the question is: Are the above conditions realistic for both the democratic transformation in Sudan before November, 2010, and the holding of the 2011 Referendum on time?
First, the condition that the government must find a just and comprehensive solution to the Darfuri crisis as well as allow for the participation of its peoples in the elections before November, 2010, is unrealistic. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed after more than two years of negotiations. Notice that Southerners were united under SPLM during CPA negations and it still took two years to reach an agreement with the government. The Durfuris, unlike Southerners, are not yet united under one faction to present their united position on what they want for their people. How can a comprehensive solution be found before November, 2010, to such a conflict of interest in Darfur?
Second, the condition that the government should fulfill the major tenets of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement particularly those parts related to democratic transformation before November, 2010, is unrealistic. If the opposition groups could not force the government to transform over the last four years, then what would make them force the same government to transform within the next four months?
Third, the condition to review the current Electoral Act with the objective of addressing the gaps and shortcomings that have appeared upon the implementation before November, 2010, is unrealistic. The review would involve parliamentary approval. So, somebody will have to draft an acceptable bill. Then the bill will be debated in parliament. The NCP that has the majority in parliament will oppose anything they do not like in the bill. That will take more than a month. Even if NCP were to give in later, the transformation of Electoral Commission will take at least one month before they resume their work. This leads us to the next related unrealistic condition.
Fourth, the condition that the government should form a new National Election Commission from persons who are known for their integrity, independence and competence before November, 2010, is unrealistic. If the new commission is formed, such a commission is going to start on a new page in order to be legitimate. Every ballot paper printed now would be declared invalid. Even if Sudan had a lot of money to print new ballot papers, nobody would expect the printing of new ballot papers to be done before the end of this year.
Fifth, the condition that the new government elected in November, 2010, would still conduct the Referendum on Self Determination as originally planned in January 2011 as well as public consultations in each of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile is unrealistic. We know that the counting of votes would take some weeks, since our system is not advanced. The new government would be sworn in at least one month after elections, which will be December, 2010. Possibilities are that ministers will not have been chosen before the announcement of election results. So, their appointments may take place in January, 2011. The parliament will start its sessions in the middle of January, 2011. So, who will have organized the 2011 Referendum on January 9, 2011?
The realistic condition here is for SPLM to have goal-oriented reasoning in the few coming hours. What does SPLM regard as important? Is it the 2011 Referendum in the South or is it the democratic transformation in the whole of Sudan? If the answer is to transform Sudan democratically, then the other question would be to know who exactly among the opposition groups in the North is known for fighting for democratic rule in Sudan over the last two decades of his or political career. If none, as far as I know, then what is the guarantee that these opposition groups mean what they say this time about democratic transformation in Sudan?
If SPLM is absolutely convinced that Northern opposition leaders have really changed and are now genuinely fighting for real democracy in Sudan, then the realistic position of SPLM would be to push the 2011 Referendum to January, 2012.
If the main goal of SPLM is to have 2011 Referendum conducted as scheduled, then pushing the current elections to November this year does not make sense. SPLM can still go ahead and participate in all levels of elections, except the national presidency.
Having elections only in the South and not in the North, as rumored, would be regarded as local by NCP, and therefore, would not count as legitimate for the conduct of the 2011 Referendum. SPLM must be smart in its decision-making at this critical moment in our history.
Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He just graduated with a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and he is still pursuing a Master of Science in Social Work, specializing in Administration and Planning. He can be contacted at email@example.com