Khartoum, Sudan – Sudan is voting in elections shunned by the opposition and expected to see the incumbent President Omar al-Bashir hold on to power for another five-year term.
Voting in the general and presidential elections began at 8am local time on Monday and will continue for three days.
More than 13 million people have registered to vote at some 11,000 polling stations across the country, but voting got off to a slow start, with mostly soldiers and elderly people showing up at locations visited by Al Jazeera.
At the St Francis School in central Khartoum, the first person to vote, 61-year-old Saad Eldin Osman,said it was his duty to vote “for the nations future” and that he would cast his vote for Bashir.
The 71-year-old president, who has been in power since June 1989, later voted at the same school, accompanied by ministers and his two wives.
The country’s main opposition groups are boycotting the elections, in which 15 little-known candidates are challenging the incumbent.
“I only see Bashir on TV and elsewhere. It doesn’t feel like Bashir has any other contesting against him,” Ali Adel Kheder, 19, told Al Jazeera, adding that he would not vote.
“The state TV and private channels are all pro-Bashir. I don’t know who the candidates are and what their election programmes are.”
Mohammed Khatm al-Haaj, 22, however, said it was important for him to exercise his constitutional right to vote.
“Those boycotting are hurting the country. We need national dialogue, but after the election,” he said.
Another voter, a retired lieutenant army general, who did not give his name, said that people should vote even if they wanted to vote against the president.
“Boycotting is a negative and not proactive,” he said. “We all need to contribute as citizens. You are free to choose whomever you want. Just vote.”
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Voters are also electing members of the national assembly, and the legislative councils of the states.
Quota systems are in place to ensure that women occupy at least 25 percent of seats in the national assembly and that all the country’s regions are fairly represented.
The opposition says no credible elections can be held until peace is restored in all of the country’s regions and the oppositions demands, including the release of all political prisoners and increased press freedom, are met.
Student Abdallah Abdelrahman, 22, told Al Jazeera that he would not be voting because the result was already obvious.
“The best thing is to boycott. We don’t trust the observers, because they are going to be threatened by the government. They will not do anything,” he said.
“The government knows how to fake the election. Change will only come via a revolution, an organised revolution with a leader. There is currently no leader in Sudan.”
But Ali Salah, 19, said he was going to vote for Bashir since he was the “only one who knows how to rule Sudan”.
“The current president understands this country. If any change is needed, he is the only one that can do it, no one else,” he said.
Several protests were held by the opposition over the weekend, and students have vowed to stage rallies during the election.
Security is a major concern in the country which has seen escalating violence in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. Armed groups have threatened to disrupt the election process.
The government has deployed 75,000 police personnel across the country to secure voting.
On Monday, Mariam al-Sadeq al-Mahdi, a member of the National Umma Party, and a leading member of the coalition to boycott the election campaign Irhal ‘Depart’ told Al Jazeera that the members of the group have been detained by the authorities. She did not specify the number of the detainees.
Earlier, the spokesperson from the coalition group put the number at 22, including seven detained in the capital Khartoum and the rest in Port Sudan, Ghadaref, White Nile and Senar.
The head of the election commission, Mukhtar al-Assam, said the elections would take place across the 18 Sudanese states, except for six areas in South Kordofan and one in central Darfur where fighting has been raging between rebels and government forces.
The elections will be monitored by the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Arab League.
Counting of ballots is expected to begin shortly after the last polls close on April 15. The results are scheduled to be announced on April 27.