Khartoum, Sudan – Sudan has wrapped up the first of three days of presidential elections shunned by the opposition and expected to return incumbent President Omar al-Bashir to power.
Voting in the general and presidential elections began on Monday, with more than 13 million people 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.
The country’s main opposition groups are boycotting the elections, in which 15 little-known candidates are challenging the incumbent, in power since 1989.
Student Safi El-Deen, 22, said he had not even considered voting.
“I don’t really care about the election,” he told Al Jazeera. “In general I just don’t care. I don’t think any change will happen. These elections will not affect me.”
But one of the few young voters who cast ballots at a polling station in central Khartoum, Mohammed Khatm al-Haaj, 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,” the 22-year-old said.
Another voter, a retired lieutenant-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 opposition’s demands, including the release of all political prisoners and increased press freedom, are met.
Several protests were held by the opposition over the weekend, and students have vowed to stage rallies during the election.
On Monday, Mariam al-Sadeq al-Mahdi, a member of the National Umma Party and a leading member of the coalition behind the Irhal (Depart) campaign to boycott the election, told Al Jazeera that the members of the group had been detained by the authorities. She did not give the exact 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.
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.
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 are being 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.