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Economist: Sudan's Elections: Better Late Than Never

April 12, 2010

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Although there is no real choice in the April 2010 Sudanese elections, The Economist emphasizes that this was the first time that most Sudanese had been able to vote since 1986, and minor delays here and there wasn't going to dampen the generally festive spirit.

Remarkably, after all confusion of last week, Sudan's multi-party elections started on April 11th as planned. But perhaps it was too much to expect the polling stations to open promptly at 8am as well. Sure enough, in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, voters and officials at several polling centres were left kicking their heels for hours waiting for the ballot papers to turn up. In the north, it was reported that some people were not able to vote until late afternoon.

But since this was the first time that most Sudanese had been able to vote since 1986, a delay here and there wasn't going to dampen the generally festive spirit of the day. Asked if he was disappointed at the tardiness of the polls, one Dinka tribesman in Juba sagely replied that he was confident they would open eventually, on "African time".

The late openings will, however, further complicate an already dangerously cumbersome exercise. In the south of the country, voters are being asked to cast 12 ballots, covering different tiers of government in the country as a whole as well as in the south specifically. In the north, voters will cast 8 ballots. In a country in which many people are illiterate, this is time-consuming. On Sunday, in Juba, some voters were taking half an hour to get through all the ballots. An extension of the three-day voting period is likely.

Many voters will be confused as to who is officially standing, too. Some opposition parties "boycotted" the vote in protest against the pre-election rigging of President Omar al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP). But their boycotts do not extend to all levels of government, or all parts of the country. The main opposition party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM; made up of one-time southern rebels), withdrew its candidate, Yasir Arman, from the presidential contest, but it is unclear whether it is officially running for any other offices. Besides, Mr Arman and the other politicians supposedly boycotting the election still appear on the ballot papers. If everyone votes for him anyway, will he persist with his boycott? No-one seems to know.

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