Sudan polls: Voters conspicuous by their absence

First day of voting ends with low turnout, but that is not expected to get in the way of President Bashir.

It’s exactly 8am local time (05:00 GMT) in Sudan and polls have just opened. In many African countries, polls and campaigns always makes good TV. The long queues of eager voters: from the very old to the young, pregnant women; women carrying children on their backs and just people from diverse backgrounds add character to everything.

Those who voted or covered the 2010 elections will tell you that’s how the mood was – full excitement and passion, even if the main opposition parties pulled out of the election at the last minute.

This time things are different. Everything seems so low key.

So here we are – 05:00 GMT – at St Francis school located at a suburb in Khartoum, the capital. It’s also where Omar al-Bashir was expected to vote. There was no voter yet when I arrived! All I could see were journalists with their cameras, satellite trucks, tape recorders, pens and notebooks.

And that’s why when Ahmed Saeed Salman arrives to vote about half an hour later, almost everyone, including myself swarm him to get a comment.

He said he is voting because he’s a patriot and it’s his democratic right. A few other voters start showing up as well. It’s just a trickle though at a polling station that has 4,808 registered voters.

The highlight of the day is the arrival of President Bashir, but we need to see the “real” people. I ask why the turnout seems so low.

“This is just the first of three days of voting. It’s a public holiday and many Sudanese have a tendency of waiting till the very last minute to cast their ballot,” I’m told.

I’m also told that many of those who vote at St Francis polling station are top government officials, security forces, other civil servants and the elite, that if we go to other polling stations, we might get more “ordinary people”.

So we head out still looking for voters.

The second polling station we visit is even less busy than St Francis. We hear there were some people early morning but not very many.

The electoral clerks seem bored, just waiting for somebody, anybody. One clerk is playing a game of solitaire on her phone.

There’s a bit of movement in the third polling station – a few elderly people are voting. I have not seen many young people.

We make some phone calls to people in other polling stations in Khartoum and other parts of the country and we’re told that the situation is the same – “lukewarm”.

Opposition figures and civil society groups who have boycotted the polls say that today is an indictment of an election they have labelled a sham.

Some activists have been distributing leaflets and even going door to door urging people not to vote.

In some suburbs, there are notices on doors of people’s homes that read “Dear candidate, don’t bother knocking on this door, I’m not voting”.

But we also spoke to a top official of the ruling National Congress Party Mustafa Osman Ismael who told us it’s still early days and people will turn out in large numbers to vote. He said the elections are credible, a constitutional right and calls for a boycott are just a sideshow by an opposition that wants to remain relevant.

Whatever the case, whatever the eventual voter count, President Bashir seems to be headed for perhaps what may be a controversial, but easy victory.

Source: Al Jazeera