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Sudan: Significant challenges to free elections
NewsNotes, July-August 2009

The following article was written by Alice Burger, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

When the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in hopes of ending the on-going civil war, they agreed to elections. Although steps are being taken to prepare for elections in February 2010, uncertainty remains about whether the government will live up to its obligations. Meanwhile, conflict continues among ethnic groups in southern Sudan, often over land and resources, increasing the humanitarian crisis that has troubled the area for over 20 years.

The National Congress Party (NCP), which was in control of the government when the CPA was signed in 2005, has historically disregarded the civil rights of Sudanese citizens, suppressing dissenting voices. According to Enough!, the international community has not sufficiently ensured that free campaigning will take place in the run-up to the elections, potentially endangering the practice of open elections.

At the same time, the international community has not addressed the issue of power-sharing in the country. The NCP, as sole authority in the government for years, has not shared power with other groups. In order to build a lasting peace, the SPLM/A must be included in the governance of Sudan, but it is unclear how elections will fit into the over all goal of creating a power-sharing government.

Additionally, the logistics of the election are daunting for the government to implement. Voter education efforts have been slow in a country where there have never been free elections. The rainy season poses a problem as well in southern Sudan, hindering voter registration efforts. And even if the elections do take place, the government is ill-prepared for the problems that it might face during and after the votes are cast.

Most importantly in southern Sudan, the lack of basic services for the people means that elections will be more difficult to accomplish. In recent months, violence has escalated in southern Sudan. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) reports that doctors in Jonglei and Upper Nile states have treated over 170 people for wounds sustained in conflicts there. In May, conflicts between ethnic groups resulted in the deaths of 66 people.

What is especially troubling about this situation is that the areas where the conflict is taking place are also areas with significant food shortages. On June 12, boats carrying grain and other supplies for the World Food Program, along with a number of other vessels, were attacked by a group of armed men. Four boats were sunk and all of the food was stolen from the remaining vessels. This has caused food supplies to be cut off for 19,000 people who are in desperate need of this assistance.

The danger posed by these armed groups has forced aid workers to use airplanes to deliver relief food. Unfortunately, the planes are more costly to use than boats and cannot carry as much food – each plane can only carry about five tons of cargo while several hundred tons need to be delivered.

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