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Sudan’s “foolproof” elections

April 12, 2010

SUDAN-ELECTIONS/It all started so well… the lines of voters sheltering patiently in the shade from the sweltering heat to vote in Sudan’s first open polls in 24 years.

Many criticised the opposition for boycotting the vote, saying it was missing out on a national event.

But as the votes began to pour into the ballot boxes, the cracks began to show.

In one centre, ballot papers began to run out and after 3-1/2 hours waiting, an impatient woman shouted in through the window: “Please people can’t you hurry it up – we’ve got young children out here.”

While a desperate elections official was shouting requests down his mobile phone for more ballot papers, another discovery came to light. The hundreds of votes already cast were made on the wrong ballots.

And it all began to unravel.

As the sun rose in the desert sky, it was revealed that dozens of voting centres had received incorrect ballot papers and that the nameor symbols of many independent and opposition candidates were either missing or incorrect.

In some parts of the country election materials were hours late and voting did not begin until late afternoon, never began at all or it was halted entirely.

Some people were able to wash off the “indelible” ink used to stop double counting in the three-day affair within minutes.

And many, many Sudanese, including south Sudan’s vice president, wasted hours searching for the voting station they should vote in.

In some centres elections officials refused to stop voting on the incorrect ballots sometimes until the end of the day.

And those who wanted to record a formal complaint found that those forms too, conveniently, had not arrived.

Some looked to the international observers for help, like the African Union with a team of 75 to cover Africa’s largest country. I met five of them, travelling in a pack in the capital.

With apparently no way to communicate with the Arabic-speaking voters or officials, they spent much of their time posing for holiday snaps with each other and Sudanese officials.

The only question they asked was my opinion — the foreign journalist. And the more studious female team member filled in just two sections on her observer form — the name of the centre being one of them.

It was a world away from the confident news conference the National Elections Commission had given 24 hours earlier where they, once again, insisted no delay was necessary and everything was in place.

NEC member Mokhtar al-Asam said hundreds of international observers would see and prevent any irregularities. I wasn’t convinced by those I had seen.

And every ballot paper would be stamped and signed — the elections were “foolproof”, completely beyond manipulation, he said. 

But voting officials said on Sunday they’d been told not to sign the ballots and no one knew what was happening to the ballot boxes overnight during the three-day process.

“The National Elections Commission has totally failed to administer these elections,” said opposition Popular Congress Party official Kamal Omer, one of the few participating.
 
“It is very clear that they were either fooling us or lying to us,” said local observer Aisha el-Karib.

And all that was missing was an “I told you so” from the by now smug opposition parties that had boycotted the election.

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