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Sudan vote enters second day after chaotic start

Safaa Kanj

Sudan's first multiparty elections in two decades entered a second day on Monday after a chaotic start that saw southern former rebels crying foul.

Sudan’s first multiparty elections in two decades entered a second day on Monday after a chaotic start that saw southern former rebels crying foul and electoral officials acknowledging “mistakes”.

Queues—one for men, one for women—formed in stifling heat at voting stations in central Khartoum on Monday before polling began at 8am local time, as cars arrived bringing even more voters.

On Sunday’s first day of voting, many polling stations opened late as officials awaited delivery of ballot papers or received the wrong material, angering voters and in some case sparking scuffles, witnesses said.

However, police on Monday said there had been no reports of major violence linked to the ballot in Africa’s largest country.

The avalanche of complaints linked to voting procedures compounded question marks about the credibility of an election from which key candidates had already withdrawn ahead of polling day citing fraud.

The three-day polling process had always threatened to be difficult with voters, may of them illiterate, having to contend with ballots for simultaneous presidential, parliamentary, state and southern regional elections.

But the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the southern former rebels, described the first day of polling as “wasted” due to a raft of procedural problems and demanded the vote be extended from three to seven days.

“There have been a lot of irregularities that we have noticed,” said Samson Kwaje, campaign manager for SPLM leader Salva Kiir, at the end of Sunday’s balloting.

“Today [Sunday] was a wasted day. We are seriously sending a protest to the NEC [National Election Commission],” he added.

Late opening
Kwaje said the irregularities included polling stations opening late, wrong ballot boxes in the wrong places and ballot boxes going missing.

The NEC acknowledged there had been “mistakes” in distributing ballot papers in some areas but made no comment on the possibility of prolonging the election.

It said the process was going well “except some technical mistakes about the distribution of ballots in 26 centres in Khartoum state”.

“In White Nile state, there has been a problem matching the symbols with the candidates,” it added.

In the southern regional capital, Juba, voters said they struggled with no fewer than 12 ballot papers.

The SPLM had already pulled out its presidential candidate, Yasser Arman, while former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of the northern opposition Umma party also withdrew.

The opposition parties accused the National Congress Party of veteran President Omar al-Bashir, who seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, of plotting to fake an election victory, particularly after the contract for ballot papers went to a state-owned printer.

Al-Bashir, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater) after casting his ballot at the St Francis school in central Khartoum on Sunday, has promised an “exemplary” election.

In Juba, the southern former rebel leader said he was voting for the first time in his life and hoped the elections would lead to the “formation of a democratic process in south Sudan”.

Kiir is standing for election as president of the autonomous government in south Sudan that will lead the region to a promised referendum on independence next January.

Civil war
The two votes are central planks of a 2005 peace deal between the SPLM and al-Bashir’s government that ended two decades of civil war between the mainly Christian and animist south, and the mainly Muslim north.

In the western region of Darfur, where civil war between the Khartoum government and ethnic minority rebels has been raging since 2003, international peacekeepers reported no violence on Sunday.

European Union monitors had pulled out of Darfur before polling day citing concerns about security in the region where an estimated 2,7-million people have fled their homes.

In March 2009, al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. The court issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.—Sapa-AFP

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