Sudanese Elections 2010
Many in Khartoum were waiting with baited breath as polls opened on the 11th April. The rhetoric here has been simply that “nobody knows what will happen”. My Eritrean housemates, already timid walking the street in Sudan, fear leaving the house. Would there be demonstrations, civil unrest, police crackdowns? The answer seems to be in the negative.
On the streets of downtown, it seems like any other day. There is a slight increase in police presence; local newspapers report that in some regions elsewhere in Sudan they are more prevalent. “We’re not expecting widespread violence, only things that might blow up in pockets”, Reuters quoted an aid-official.
The major problems that are reported in local newspapers are those concerning voter registration. Months ago, eligible voters had to register with their local voting centre, sometimes causing complications for those living in other parts of the country than their home-town. For over two million Darfuris living in IDP camps, they will have no voice in the process. Now the polls have opened, there have been widespread reports of people arriving at their nominated polling station to find their names missing from the list of voters. Many people do not have the means to travel to neighbouring stations to search for their names. Even at the right station, finding one’s name can be a long process, causing queues, and further complicated by spelling errors.
In the South, particularly, voting was widely delayed by several hours due to problems in the logistics of delivering materials and ballot papers. Once arrived, further complaints were lodged due to mis-printing or omissions of candidates’ names. Changes of party logos on the ballot papers also posed another problem. In a country where illiteracy rates are estimated at 30% - 40% (a recent statement by the Ministry of Education put the figure at 14 million, from a population of around 42 million), identifying a logo—rather than a candidate or party name—is crucial to a significant portion of the populace.
A whole generation has never voted and the process is complex: people in the north will vote eight times, in the south the figure rises to twelve. Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan and voting for the first time in his life, spoiled his first ballot by depositing it in the wrong box.
I have met mixed reactions in Khartoum. When asked why certain of my friends don’t have a green, ink-stained finger (signifying having voted) some reply that they don’t care, some that they are not registered. Others, though, are incredibly happy — and proud — to have participated in elections that are heralded to bring democracy to the country. As I visited a voting station in Khartoum, a woman proudly showed her ink-stained finger and a man was keen to show that there were no problems with the process, evidently expecting this western observer to expect the worst.
“These elections will not suddenly transform Sudan into a democratic society. That will take time and experience.”
— Abdallah Ahmed Abdallah, a top official at Sudan’s electoral commission
» More photos: Sudanese Elections.