Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Abayomi Azikiwe: On the eve of Sudanese elections U.S., E.U. intervention poses problems

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Apr 11, 2010 6:44 PM

Despite widely publicized claims that the opposition parties in Sudan will boycott the elections scheduled for April 11-13, President Omar al-Bashir has reiterated that the national poll will not be derailed.

Moktar Al-Ahsan, a member of Sudan’s National Election Commission, says, “We are confident that the elections will be completed on time and they will be supported by the people to vote.” The official maintains that the people are “keen to participate in the process.” (Christian Science Monitor, April 5)

Election Commission officials pointed out that 84 percent of the people in Sudan of voting age have registered to participate. One opposition party, The Democratic Unionists, which had withdrawn, is now back in the race.

The presidential candidate for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, Yasir Arman, withdrew from the elections, saying that the process has not been fair. However, Al-Ahsan of the National Election Commission says in the same article that “There is nothing new in what the opposition is saying. We have reviewed their complaints, and accepted some of their objections and others; the opposition went to court and we were obliged to make changes. But now, we are bound by the timetable as it is.”

A spokesman for the ruling National Congress Party of President al-Bashir noted that there is no basis for the withdrawal of the SPLM from the elections. Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, a NCP official, indicated in the same article that “Until this time there was no information that the opposition parties will withdraw. I think the political parties are not justified to withdraw. They feel that if they enter these competitions, they will lose. So instead of losing, they start to make chaos.”

Even though both the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Sudan over the conflict with rebel secessionist groups in the western Darfur region, efforts have been made under the Obama administration to open up dialogue with the government in Khartoum. The U.S. special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration visited the country in early April to assess the political situation leading up to the national elections.

Gration stated on April 4 that “They (National Election Commission) have given me confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible. These people have gone to great lengths to ensure that the people of Sudan will have access to polling places and that the procedures and processes will ensure transparency.” (Sudan Tribune, April 5)

Gration’s statements have angered various political elements in the country who saw the upcoming elections as a means to weaken and destabilize the NCP government. The northern-based Umma Party met with the government on April 2 and later said that their participation was contingent upon the fulfillment of eight conditions which included access to the media and electoral funding.

Nonetheless, the U.S. State Department pointed out that the U.S. wanted the Sudan National Election Commission to make changes in the way the upcoming vote is organized. Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said that Washington was still “concerned with troubling developments including serious restrictions on political freedom.” (AFP, April 5)

Crowley also said that it was “important for the government of Sudan to immediately lift restrictions on political parties and the civil society.”

Sudan presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie expressed his belief that the major opposition parties will agree to participation in the elections. In the April 5 article in the Sudan Tribune, Nafie was quoted from an interview held at the NCP headquarters as saying that “opposition parties will have no choice but to take part in the elections after losing external support.”

The April 11-13 elections are crucial in the success of the 2005 peace deal signed between Khartoum and the southern-based SPLM and other parties in the region. The success of a projected 2011 referendum on the future of the southern region will probably be determined by the outcome of the April poll.

Sanctions remain in force by the U.S. and E.U.

President al-Bashir’s government is hoping that with the advent of national elections existing sanctions imposed by the imperialist countries against this central African state will be lifted. These sanctions were recently highlighted when the European Commission reiterated its ban on Sudanese carriers landing at airports controlled by the E.U.’s 27-country bloc.

A March 30 Reuters article says that the European Commission will continue to place restrictions on aircraft that do not meet certain safety standards. “We cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards,” said European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. Reuters reported that “In many airports in Sudan, travelers are greeted by the sight of a crashed plane lying beside the runway. Sudan blames U.S. sanctions, imposed in 1997, for difficulties in obtaining spare parts.”

Sudan has been at odds with the U.S. since the first military invasion of Iraq in 1991. The Sudan government refused to support the coalition led by the U.S. and Britain whose military actions resulted in the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and the imposition of more than a decade of draconian United Nations sanctions against the previous government of the late President Saddam Hussein.

With Sudan emerging as a major oil-producing state during the previous decade, the country has moved closer to the People’s Republic of China. Consequently, Britain, the European Union and the U.S. have given political support to the Darfur rebel groups fighting the Sudan government in the western region near the border with Chad, a state which is backed by the conservative government in France.

Sudan is often accused by Israel of supplying arms to the Hamas government in Gaza. During 2009, reports indicated that the Israeli Air Force bombed a number of convoys in Sudan alleging that they were smuggling arms from Iran into Egypt and across the border into the Gaza region of occupied Palestine. The government in Khartoum has denied allegations of arms smuggling, although it does openly support the struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation and statehood.

President al-Bashir earlier this year signed a peace agreement with one of the leading rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement. However, leading up to the elections, the JEM has charged the NCP government with violating the agreements.

On April 5 the JEM accused the Sudan Air Force of bombing areas inside the Darfur region. “The bombing started at midnight and continued this morning. ... These people [in the government] are not interested in finding a political solution to the problem,” said JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam, who spoke to Reuters by telephone from Qatar. (April 5)

In the same article, the NCP government denied the allegations by the JEM: “The Sudan Army is committed to the ceasefire it has signed with JEM. It has not bombed any JEM positions,” a military spokesman said.

Ghazi Salaheddin, the government’s negotiator for Darfur, said that the JEM rebels are really the party violating the peace agreement by moving into territories prohibited in the truce. “They (JEM) have been fanning out in the area and trying to establish themselves in Kulbus and Jabel Moun which is a violation of the ceasefire declaration.”

The International Criminal Court based in The Hague has issued several indictments calling for the arrest of President al-Bashir and other leading officials of the government. The ICC indictments have been rejected by the government in Khartoum, and their position is supported by both the African Union and the Arab League.

Both of these regional organizations representing Africa and the Arab world oppose the ICC actions, saying the ICC has complicated the ongoing peace process that is making progress in curbing the fighting within the Darfur region as well as in the border areas with neighboring Chad.

E-mail: panw@africamail.com.

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