Sudan poll given a thumbs up

One election observer says Sudan's vote must be judged by local standards.

    International observers have expressed doubts about Sudan's first elections in 24 years [AFP]

    The votes are being counted in Sudan's first multi-party elections in 24 years and while some observers have criticised the poll for failing to meet "international standards", one is suggesting that the basis for such judgements may be flawed.

    Feisal Abdul Rauf is an American imam and the chairman of an organisation that works to strengthen relations between the Muslim world and the West.

    He led a team of election observers from the Cordoba Initiative and insists Sudan's elections should not be considered a failure.

    "We give the election, as a whole, a pass. We have no doubt that it cannot be called a failure," he says.

    While recognising the logistical challenges posed by the elections, Abdul Rauf maintains that it was a beneficial exercise.

    "This election satisfied many purposes and was what can be expected from a country that hosts elections for the first time in such a long while."

    Understanding votes' context

    American imam Feisal Abdul Rauf led an election observer team in Sudan

    Sudan's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended a generation-long civil war between the north and south of the country and established a national unity government.

    It also set a deadline of 2011 for South Sudan to hold a referendum on its independence and Abdul Rauf says the election must be understood in this context.

    "You need to look at the elections in the context of the CPA, and acknowledge that the referendum is also important in shaping events that led up to this election."

    The elections have come at a critical time for Sudan.

    In March 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur and his critics have expressed concern that electoral success may serve to legitimise his government.


    But, Abdul Rauf, whose observer mission had teams in Khartoum, Darfur and South Sudan, says the mood among Sudanese throughout the country was one of interest and enthusiasm.
    "The election was fascinating for both us and the people of Sudan. People stood for hours, in the heat, often with no access to toilets or other amenities.

    "In spite of everything, people were very passionate about voting and that needs to be recognised.

    "Across the country we saw common things - everyone loved the idea that they were being empowered to elect their leaders; they were all looking at this as a chance for material development. In Darfur specifically, people want basic necessities and needs."

    At the polling stations the Cordoba Initiative's teams visited, at least half of those eligible to had cast their vote - a turnout Abdul Rauf suggests is reflective of public enthusiasm, particularly considering the logistical difficulties encountered.

    Local standards

    special report

    But with nearly 16 million eligible voters electing the president of the republic, the president of the government of southern Sudan, the governor of each state and choosing the national assembly, the southern Sudan legislative assembly and legislative councils of the states, the vote was a complicated process and one which Abdul Rauf says even the US would have struggled to manage.

    "The extent of the elections was very broad, something that even the US could not do."

    And with north Sudanese completing eight ballots, and southerners 12, he says illiteracy sometimes proved to be an obstacle

    "Someone asked: Why can't I vote for Numeri [who ruled the country from 1969 until he was toppled in 1985]? This was an indication of how the low literacy levels impacted people's capacity to vote.

    "There is no institutional memory of elections in people. Not only the young, but many older people, some in their 60s, said it was the first time that they voted."

    But despite cases of irregularities in the voting process, Abdul Rauf's team of observers came to the unanimous decision that Sudan's elections were not a failure.

    "We reached our decision after taking into account the context and the complexities that existed, after much discussion and deliberation, as well as exchanging and comparing notes with other observer missions," he said, stressing that Sudan's elections must be assessed by local standards, not European or American ones.

    So while Jimmy Carter, the former US president who also led an observer mission in Sudan, has said that the elections fell "short of the international standards that are normally expected of advanced democracies in the holding of elections", Abdul Rauf has stressed that Sudan's elections must be judged by local standards and not those of Europe or the US.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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