March 19, 2010 (KHARTOUM) – The Carter Center issued a preliminary statement on the final stages of Sudan’s electoral process saying the process "remains at risk on multiple fronts including the ability of candidates to campaign freely" and the potentially negative impact from delayed logistical preparations.
The statement is notable for its recommendation to the National Elections Commission (NEC) that this body consider exercising its power to delay the election.
Aside from a newly deployed European Union mission, the Carter Center is the only international elections observation mission in Sudan. It has 12 long-term observers in-country and is expecting to deploy more for the polling period. It had sent several dozen observers for the roughly month long registration period.
"Logistical preparations are straining the limited capacity of the NEC," the US-based observer mission said in a public statement. "With a series of delays and changes in polling procedures, a minor delay in polling for operational purposes may be required."
The Center’s statement urged the NEC to make a decision as quickly as possible about any delay in the election date "so that all stakeholders have time to adjust plans." Given the onset of the rainy season in Darfur and South Sudan in the months after the April 11 polling date, however, only a minor delay may be possible or advisable.
In a dramatic statement, the Carter Center said "it is increasingly unclear if the NEC can deliver a successful election on time," citing limited NEC and UN transportation capacity, the massive volume of materials to be deployed, the re-packaging of materials necessitated by changes in the planned number of polling stations, voters per polling station, and delays in ballots production.
Among other logistical concerns, the Center related that there will be 10,320 polling centers accommodating 17,914 polling stations throughout Sudan, a "dramatic reduction from the originally planned number of approximately 21,000 stations." The statement warned that this might lead to lack of access for voters in remote areas.
The observers also noted the widespread absence of any civic or voter education efforts – three youth activists from the Girifna organization were even arrested for raising civic awareness of the campaign process and charged with ‘public noisiness’.
“The Sudanese election has a highly complex balloting process, in a country where the population has little experience participating in elections. Thus far Carter Center observers deployed in the regions and the capitals have only observed marginal efforts on civic education surrounding the polling process, which, unless escalated dramatically and rapidly, will weaken the quality of this election," said the Center.
As to media freedom, there are serious deficiencies. At least two newspapers have had editorial staff summoned by the National Press Council over comments made by the publications on Omar al-Bashir. Radio broadcasts of political candidates are pre-screened. Two radio stations in Juba were closed temporarily by security forces. "State agencies should not dictate acceptable subjects for publication. The NEC should ensure that all media can freely comment on issues related to the campaign," stated the observers.
The Center also voiced concerned about lack of transparency for the planned post-polling procedures, such as how and when the results will be released from polling stations.