Bashir set to tighten grip on Sudan

Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir was re-elected on Monday with 94.5% of a vote boycotted by major opposition parties and denounced by Western governments as lacking credibility.

“The number of votes obtained by candidate Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir of the National Congress Party was 5 252 478, or 94.5%” of ballots cast, election commission head Mokhtar al-Assam declared in the capital, Khartoum.

Bashir – the only sitting head of state facing genocide charges at the International Criminal Court – faced few challengers for the presidency. His closest competitor, Fadl el-Sayed Shuiab of the small Federal Truth Party, won 79 665 votes, or 1.43%.

Sudan’s principal opposition parties refused to take part, saying there was little chance of a free and fair contest.

‘A political charade’
Political activists had campaigned for an unprecedented mass boycott, denouncing the vote as “a political charade”.

Polling stations in Khartoum were largely deserted despite a nationwide one-day extension. The African Union’s election observer mission said there had been a “generally low turnout of voters throughout”.

But Assam insisted reports of low turnout were “not accurate”. He put the figure at 46.4% across the four days of polling in which representatives of the national and state ­parliaments were also chosen. Nearly 13-million people were registered to vote at some 11 000 polling centres.

The controversial ballot has faced international condemnation, with the United States, Britain and Norway last week criticising Sudan for its “failure to create a free, fair and conducive elections environment”.

Rights campaigners were quick to denounce the result. Suliman Baldo, executive director of the Sudan Democracy First Group, said: “It is the opposite of a great day for democracy. There was general apathy, a sort of fatalism that Bashir and his party were competing with themselves. The boycott was systematic, including even from the membership of the ruling party.”

Baldo predicted that fighting in the Darfur region and other hot spots would now intensify. “Major battles are being fought as we speak now. The political crisis will become more serious and aggravated because there is now no room for dialogue between the government and opposition.”

A national dialogue was launched by Bashir in January last year but, as the elections approached, several opposition leaders were detained and there was a renewed crackdown on the press.

Olivia Warham, director of the United Kingdom-based campaign group Waging Peace, said: “I can hardly say I’m surprised – everyone knew Bashir would win from the day he announced his candidacy. This was a farce of an election.

“Even those who could vote just didn’t show up. Polling stations were deserted, or filled with more police officers and ruling party plants than actual voters. Victims of the genocide in Darfur and elsewhere are terrified that Bashir is adding another five years to his already almost 26-year rule.”

Warham added that the UK should now act: “We were delighted that the UK joined the US and Norway in declaring the result illegitimate. What we need now is action, not ‘business as usual’ for Bashir and his cronies. For starters, we can’t let him continue to evade arrest for charges of genocide.”

Bashir seized power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup, and won re-election in a 2010 election marred by an opposition boycott and claims that the vote did not meet international standards.

The 71-year-old now looks set to tighten his grip on the country. He told voters during the campaign that only he could shield Sudan from the chaos engulfing other Arab countries, where he said Western-backed aspirations for democracy – that flourished in the 2011 “Arab Spring” – took priority over stability.

Bashir is wanted on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over his long military campaign in the western Darfur region. He has been fighting to crush another insurgency in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since the secession of South Sudan in 2011. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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David Smith
David Smith is the Guardian's Washington DC bureau chief. From 2010 to 2015 Smith was the Africa correspondent for The Guardian for which he was based in Johannesburg, South Africa
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