Rosalind Marsden
Associate Fellow, Africa Programme
A flawed process will keep long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in power without resolving the country’s problems.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir during a campaign rally in El-Fasher, in North Darfur, on 8 April 2015.Sudan President Omar al-Bashir during a campaign rally in El-Fasher, in North Darfur, on 8 April 2015.

The outcome of Sudan’s presidential and parliamentary elections, held on 13-15 April, is not in doubt. President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled Sudan for more than a quarter of a century after seizing power in a military coup and who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, is expected to win the presidency in a landslide. Combined with pre-arranged parliamentary elections, the process looks unlikely to hold much legitimacy or deliver any answers to Sudan’s continuing problems.

Such an outcome is hardly surprising given that opposition parties are boycotting the elections, most other presidential candidates are virtually unknown and the process is overseen by the powerful national security apparatus. Bashir is the only candidate who has been actively campaigning and touring the country.

The result of the parliamentary elections has also been organized in advance. Through their announcement of candidates, Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) signalled that they would allow other political parties to win about 30 percent of the seats. This is consistent with President Bashir’s intention to invite NCP-aligned parties into another broad-based government with the offer of parliamentary seats, government jobs and the economic benefits available to regime insiders. NCP parliamentary candidates are hardly bothering to campaign. Speaking recently at Chatham House, Sudanese analyst Magdi el Gizouli spoke of the election result being irrelevant, due to a system that manages political competition by distributing jobs among government satellite parties.

Lack of credibility

The government of Sudan maintains that it is constitutionally obliged to hold elections this month. This argument might have cut more ice if it had not just amended the constitution to abolish the state governors’ elections, which should have taken place at the same time as the presidential and parliamentary elections – as well as if there had been efforts to create a conducive environment by respecting the basic freedoms also enshrined in the constitution. It is widely believed that President Bashir is keen to go ahead with elections in order to gain a veneer of legitimacy for the government and to protect himself from the ICC by securing another five years in office.

The government’s insistence on holding elections this month puts it at odds with those who believe that, for elections to be credible, they should be preceded by a genuine and inclusive national dialogue. Opposition parties are boycotting what they regard as sham elections. In December 2014, the ‘Sudan Call’ forces – a political alliance between the Sudan Revolutionary Front, the National Umma Party, the National Consensus Forces (an umbrella group of leftist parties) and the Civil Society Initiative – signed a declaration calling for a comprehensive political solution to end Sudan’s wars, democratization, equal citizenship and the end of one-party rule. They have launched an election boycott campaign across the country which is gaining momentum.

It is difficult to see how credible elections can be held in Sudan in the current environment. Continued armed conflict underway in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and associated human suffering, means that millions of voters will be disenfranchised. Political space has been further squeezed since the 2010 elections. Newspapers have been regularly confiscated, civil society organizations closed and opposition politicians, civil society leaders, activists and students detained. Three prominent detainees − Farouq Abu Eisa, Amin Mekki Medani and Farah Agar − were imprisoned for four months after the signing of the Sudan Call declaration by opposition groups and only released on the eve of elections.

Some international bodies which observed the 2010 elections, including the European Union and the Carter Center, have declined to engage in election monitoring this time. The members of the Sudan Troika (US, UK and Norway) expressed disappointment that ‘an environment conducive to participatory and credible elections does not exist’, while the European Union lamented that ‘when dialogue is bypassed, some groups are excluded and civil and political rights are infringed, the upcoming elections cannot produce a credible result with legitimacy throughout the country’. Nevertheless, Khartoum will derive comfort and a measure of legitimacy from the presence of African Union, Arab League and other international monitoring missions.

Lost opportunities

The NCP’s decision to reject former South African president and African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki’s invitation to attend a preparatory meeting in Addis Ababa in late March, in order to discuss the modalities for a genuine national dialogue with other Sudanese stakeholders, was a serious lost opportunity to work towards a comprehensive solution to Sudan’s problems. The NCP’s absence was reportedly due to concern about coming under pressure to postpone elections. It might also signal that the regime is losing interest in African Union led negotiations because it is feeling emboldened by an improvement in its regional relations, particularly the substantial economic benefits already flowing from President Bashir’s dramatic decision to join the Saudi-led military coalition against the Houthis in Yemen (despite Sudan’s previous long-standing alliance with Iran). If so, the prospects of peacefully resolving Sudan’s multiple problems look more remote than ever.

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