March 31, 2010 (KHARTOUM) — The Sudanese opposition reacted with anger and surprise after the ex-Southern rebel group decided to pull its presidential candidate leaving them feeling betrayed as speculations raged on a secret deal with the ruling party.
Earlier today the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced that it pulled its candidate for the post of the country’s president in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for 11th April.
The decision to withdraw the candidacy of Yasir Arman was reached in the Southern Sudan’s capital, Juba, during the party’s Political Bureau extraordinary meeting which took place on Wednesday.
The Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan and Deputy Chairperson of the SPLM, Riek Machar, said the party arrived at the decision to withdraw Arman because it did not want to give legitimacy to the incumbent President, Omer Hassan al-Bashir of the National Congress Party (NCP) who runs for re-election.
Arman’s withdrawal means Beshir is assured of re-election in the first round of voting, unless the opposition parties, which meet on Thursday to decide whether to boycott the election, can come up with a single candidate.
Machar added that the SPLM will participate in the elections at all other levels of government with the exception of Darfur and Southern Kordofan, particularly in its parliamentary elections.
However, Arman in an interview with the Qatar based Al-Jazeera TVtoday expressed confidence that other parties will also boycott the elections and suggested that SPLM may extend its non-participation to other parts of North Sudan.
Machar said the SPLM will be in consultation with other political forces and decide how best to carry on with the presidential elections, adding that the withdrawal of Arman did not mean the party had confirmed President Bashir’s candidacy.
The SPLM VP who traveled back to Khartoum on Wednesday evening following the Bureau’s meeting further added that dialogue ould continue with the other political parties over the issues that caused the petition of the opposition parties to the Presidency.
It is not clear whether or not some or all the opposition parties will reconsider their position about the postponement of the elections and accept to participate in it.
But opposition parties appeared unhappy about the unilateral SPLM decision and hinting that it was done in coordination with the NCP for fear of the latter placing hurdles before the 2011 referendum.
"This is a betrayal by the SPLM of its agreement with the opposition forces," said Kamal Omer from the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) to Reuters, adding the party would not be boycotting the polls.
Sideeg Yousuf from the Communist Party said he was surprised by the unilateral announcement, which he called "rushed."
"The SPLM and all the political forces agreed that they would make their position in consensus at a meeting tomorrow [Thursday]," he told Reuters. But he added he hoped the parties would still all meet.
Fouad Hikmat, from the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, said the SPLM had struck a deal with the NCP to allow Bashir to win the presidency.
"The SPLM have decided to not [fully] boycott the elections because they don’t want to jeopardize the referendum — that is very important to them."
Bashir had told a political rally in Damazin, the capital of the Blue Nile state: "The elections will not be postponed or cancelled. They will take place on time."
"Our partner (in the government), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, agrees with us," he added but did not elaborate.
In January, the NCP in a surprise move said it would not field a candidate against SPLM chairman Salva Kiir for South Sudan presidency and called on the former rival to reciprocate.
Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, had threatened a southern referendum in January 2011 if the SPLM boycotted the April 11-18 polls. The NCP hopes an election win will legitimize the rule in face of the warrant.
The NCP welcomed the decision: "We welcome the decision to run for the elections which is the right decision and I hope the other parties will follow," senior NCP official Ghazi Salah Al-Deen Al-Attabani told Reuters.
"It is regrettable they have decided to boycott in Darfur but the elections in Darfur will continue, and I expect a huge turnout in Darfur for the elections," he added.
The polling day is just about ten days away as the voting will begin on 11th April through 13th April.
This week the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the NCP is rigging the elections in Darfur to secure the necessary majority to reelect Bashir given the heavy population density in that region which comprise 19% of the country.
"The NCP was able to gain advantages by dominating the drafting of election laws, despite opposition from the SPLM and other parties, and through the demarcation of favorable new electoral districts based on the flawed census results and organized by a National Elections Commission (NEC) heavily influenced by NCP members appointed to its various branches. As a result, constituencies have been added in areas where NCP supporters are the majority and removed in areas where they are not".
The ICG also accused the census takers counted new settlers in Darfur who came from Chad and Niger and issued them identity papers so they can vote as Sudanese citizens while the estimated 2.6 million internally displaced (IDPs) living in camps, as well as people from groups hostile to the NCP living in “insecure” neighborhoods of cities and the population of rebel-controlled areas were not counted.
"The legal environment for free and fair elections does not exist," Hikmat said in a statement from the Brussels-based think-tank.
"The international community should acknowledge that whoever wins will lack legitimacy."
In Khartoum it was announced that the US special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration will fly to Khartoum in an apparent bid to salvage the elections. On Thursday he will meet with Kiir, Al-Attabani, 2nd Vice President Ali Osman Taha and presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie.
The government sponsored Sudanese Media Center (SMC) website said Gration is also expected to meet with opposition leaders.
Britain — Sudan’s former colonial power — and Norway, a main provider of aid, joined the United States in expressing concern on Wednesday over the polls.
"We urge all parties in Sudan to work urgently to ensure that elections can proceed peacefully and credibly in April," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store said.
"We are deeply concerned by reports of continued administrative and logistical challenges, as well as restrictions on political freedoms," they said.
The US, British and Norwegian foreign ministers also said the election should prove a "major milestone" in the 2005 agreement that ended a 22-year north-south civil war.