Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sudan and Democratization in Africa

If you randomly drew a name of an African country from a hat and chose Sudan, you would have a pretty decent sample of the issues facing other large countries in the continent. Sudan is representative of the ethnic/ religious conflicts, natural resource dependency, and immense divide between urban and rural areas that make the process of democratization, as defined by the West, onerous if not inconceivable. This week, Sudan is in the process of voting in multi-party national elections for the first time in more than 20 years. Two of the major opposition parties have dropped out of the race, but outside election observers like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter think the vote can be free and fair.

However, underlying questions remain about the election process and the expected results. Al Jazeera reported on irregularities at several polling stations and the perception among opposition parties that the outcome will be illegitimate in the final analysis. Furthermore, the National Electoral Commission in Sudan has undermined the credibility of the entire process by breaching the standards of Sudan's own election Act. Hafiz Mohammed from Making Sense of Sudan, writes the following list to spell out the faults of the NEC to date,

- By bringing forward the date at which any candidate supposed to withdraw his/her candidateship by one month from the 12 of March to the 12 of April without any justification.

- The accepted back the candidateships of SPLM candidates for the National Assembly from South Kordofan , after they withdraw them within the legal time frame, which was because the NCP and SPLM agreed to that, although it was a clear breach of the law.

- Many of the polling station staff are members of the NCP, and some are from the neighbourhood popular committees which are totally controlled by the NCP.

- Allowing the certificates from the popular committee to be used as source of identification for voters, without using any extra document, has been common. That a clear breach of their own rules, and opens the gate to frauds. That is clear in many polling stations, in the first day of voting as, some NCP members are sitting near to the polling station issuing certificate to allow people to vote without any further checks.
- Most of the people chosen as local observers are members of the NCP, and that also clear violation of the rules as people are not allowed to be monitors if they are member of a political party or support any candidate election campaign.

- The language the NEC is using to respond to any complaint from other political parties is just an imitation of the NCP leaders’ language, so that they are seen as taking sides in the ongoing political dispute between the NCP and other political parties. That led other political parties passing a vote of no confidence on it.
What the elections in Sudan teach us is that procedural democracy is not a magic bullet. Elections alone can't resolve all of the historical and institutional contradictions facing territorially large African nations like Sudan. And while we may hope otherwise, there is no evidence that democracy with African characteristics can ever flourish without striking at the roots of internal conflict. That being said, the elections at hand are vital for short-term peace and reconciliation in Sudan. Though imperfect, the elections are a first step toward the necessary "deracializing civil society, detribalizing the Native Authority, and developing the economy in the context of unequal international relations", which Sudan and other large African countries have so far failed to accomplish.

For the first time in 25 years, there are enough Sudanese power brokers and citizens who are ready to give peace a chance.

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