African business, politics and lifestyle
Bashir’s magic number 68
On the face of it, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir got the perfect election result.
His victory with 68 percent was not too high that it would spark concerns of fraud but high enough above the 50 percent needed for a win for him to be able fly in the face of the disapproving West.
Bashir is now the only elected sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
But the path to victory was far from smooth.
Three weeks before what was promising to be an exciting electoral race, irregularities including a government printing press winning the contract to print ballot papers, sparked a wave of boycotts effectively ending any hope of a competitive presidential poll.
But given the late notice all the candidates’ names remained on the ballot papers. So despite opposition leaders urging their supporters not to go to vote — if they wanted to, they could in theory still vote for their man (or woman).
Delays prompted the National Elections Commission to abandon the computerised results system and move to a manual paper trail, allowing the results to come flooding in but leaving the door open to error or even possible manipulation.
Day after day an expectant audience turned up at the grandiose Friendship Hall wondering if today was the day when they would finally announce the big one.
Visiting journalists left the country disappointed, electoral observer missions disbanded and still no sign of the all important presidential results, due to be announced last.
Finally the NEC said it would announce the key presidencies, without waiting for the regional or national parliaments.
It was a tortured end to a torturous process.
As officials gathered, dressed for the occasion in suits and traditional attire, massive television screens showing the private Sudanese channel al-Shorouq which had transmitted every minute of Bashir’s 54-day campaign live spoiled the surprise.
They flashed Bashir’s win early to the dismay of elections officials in the room.
Minutes later the NEC arrived to make the big announcement. Sitting with the news already running on the massive television screen above his head, Abel Alier — the elderly and respected head of the commission began to speak. Very slowly.
A southerner, Arabic is not his native tongue. Peering down at the paper in front of him, he spoke off microphone and in muffled tones began a long halting explanation of what was needed to win.
Eventually Alier, over 80 years old, got to the votes. Reading out the list of names for the second time, he stumbled three times over the numbers of votes in Arabic for Bashir. Three people near me all ended up with different figures.
After reading through the entire list of candidates and their votes, it was clear Bashir had won — but by how much? As I was doing the math, Alier came up with a figure. He began to say 86 percent …”oh no 68 percent,” he ended. An audible sigh of relief went through the room.
It sounds like a magic number. But a breakdown gives a very different story.
Yasir Arman, Bashir’s runner up, said even with the fraud by Bashir’s National Congress Party, the numbers showed a majority of Sudanese did not vote for Bashir.
Of 16.4 million voters registered, Bashir got 6.9 million. So 9.5 million Sudanese either voted against him or deliberately chose not to vote, Arman said.
Bashir fared badly in the south barely getting over 50 percent in just one state. In Warrap he got as low as 1.6 percent of the vote.
The southern opposition also cited fraud in the south, and international observers expressed concern at intimidation there. But Arman pointed out senior political buro members from this SPLM party had lost in their constituencies. The SPLM, which dominates government in the south, even lost one key governor post.
“Can you name one of the NCP leaders who lost?” he said.
In what Sudanese call the marginalised areas in the north, Arman said even with the fraud, Bashir did not fare so well. In Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which will be given the chance to voice a desire for more autonomy from Khartoum if the south secedes in less than eight months’ time, he got 56.6 percent and 69.3 percent respectively. In the three Darfur states between 67.5 and 73.6 percent.
This meant Bashir needed amazing majorities in the rest of the north to win the 50 percent plus one overall. And he got them. In the equally marginalised east, he managed 95.4 percent in Red Sea state and 94 percent in Kassala. In fact in the 10 other northern states he consistently got around 90 percent or more, numbers the opposition said proved their claims of fraud in the north.
“The NCP could only rig the elections in the areas they controlled – the north,” Arman said.