Sudan Votes After 24 Years

Presidential and parliamentary elections are currently taking place to elect the President of Sudan and members of the National Assembly. The last time elections were held in Sudan was 24 years ago.

How does it feel to vote after so many years?

“I have never voted in my life…,” says Salva Mayardit, the leader of SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement):

On Sunday morning, Cde. Salva Kiir Mayardit, chairman of the SPLM and president of the Government of Southern Sunday, cast his vote at the Kololo polling station adjacent to the ministries in Juba West. Over 50 international and domestic media, as well as a group of election observers and voters, were on hand to greet the President.
Kiir shows

Chairman Kiir showing his ink-stained left index finger after casting vote in Juba today

“I have never voted in my life and it is a good beginning in Sudan to conduct peaceful and fair elections,” said Kiir to the crowd.

Cde. Kiir arrived at 8 am sharp but was delayed due to the polling station not being fully set up. When he finally was able to vote, the President voted in four rounds of ballots with three ballots in each round – Executive, National Legislative Assembly, Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, and the State Assembly.

SPLM Voices on the first day of voting:

On the first day of polling in Sudan’s first election in 24 years, SPLM agents throughout the South have reported slow going for voters and polling officials.

Lines of votes have been reported at many polling stations as they wait for the polling officials to begin the process, and materials continue to either be missing or still waiting to be delivered by local NEC officials in many states.

SPLM party agents in many states have also reported damaged polling kits, posting of voter lists in Arabic when most registered in English, and missing ballot papers for many elections.

Some specific reports are as follows:

As 12 noon, reports indicate that polling stations are still setting up and materials are still arriving or missing, which is delaying the vote.

SPLM officials observing polling stations in Juba saw no sign of polling officials this morning at Kator South (constituency no. 4), where voters were assembling at the Gyada Cooperative (Joint-Integrated Unit Barracks) with no sign of polling staff.

And on the second day:

As polling ends on the second day of elections, the general atmosphere seems to be calm and peaceful as voters patiently queued to cast their vote.

For the less fortunate, frustration and confusion could be read on their faces as the failed to find their names on the voter registrar placed at each polling station.

A disgruntled voter at a polling center in Hai Atlabara residential area said he was told to search for his name at two other centers but failed to find it.

On Sunday, the first day of voting, Dr. Anne Itto, the SPLM Deputy Secretary General for the Southern Sector casted her vote late in the afternoon as she had to first wait for the polling centers to open at her home constituency of Pageri in Eastern Equatoria State. She then had to look up her name in the various registrars, an exercise that took hours.

Dr. Anne Itto, deputy secretary general for the SPLM Southern Sector, shares her experience of voting for the first time in her life:

“I felt terrific knowing that I have chosen the leader of my choice for the next government,” she said.

She called on National Election Commission (NEC) to act quickly to resolve the problems that marred the first day of voting.

While the two leaders of SPLM are sharing the joy of voting for the first time, Sudanese Thinker explains the reasons behind his decision not to vote:

I won’t vote in the Sudanese elections.

I won’t vote because:

1. I missed the voter registration date and hardly regretted it since I’ve never really believed in the predicted “change-bringing” effects of the expected elections. Hence, I can’t vote anyway even if I change my mind and wanted to.

2. Positive alternatives to Al-Bashir with an actual chance of winning are nil.

3. Assuming I registered, given that Al-Bashir is going to win any way, I would rather abstain from voting than vote for him.

4. Regardless of the “confidence” in the election process expressed by the US envoy to Sudan, the elections aren’t going to be fair or transparent.

5. Even if I’m wrong and the election process achieves some decent level of transparency and fairness, it still takes lots of money for parties and candidates to win, something that Al-Bashir and his NCP have a lot of, while the opposition is relatively broke, with the exception of the SPLM which is too corrupt and divided to even run itself properly anyway.

6. Quite frankly, I just don’t care about the political process anymore at the moment. It’s hopeless. I’ve been so disconnected and apathetic towards what’s happening, I no longer feel its relevance. Given the current circumstances, Sudan is a country in waiting with too many question marks ahead.

Cecilia Wani is quoted in Sudan Votes describing the last elections 24 years ago:

Cecilia Wani, eighty two years of age said much as there were elections in the Sudan 24 years back, she and her husband never participated. According to her it was only the chiefs and those in authority who voted then.

“Not voting for the right govenment, means going back to slavery,” she says:

She expressed joy with being involved in such democratic historic elections. She says her interest is in the government that will be improving the health sector. She would also like to see her grand children going to better schools. “Not voting for the right government, means going back to slavery”, she said. “I do not like to see my grand children encounter the same problems I went through”.

But, as people were checking their names, there were complaints that their names were not appearing on the list of the voters. The problem was that the serial numbers were not matching with that on the registration card they had received last November during the election registration process. And those who could not read at all were in some centers left without a helper. Many of these left without voting.

Hafiz Mohammed describes how complex the voting process is in Sudan:

– The numbers of register voters is 16,176,142 people the polling station are 10,230, that means the average voters per centre is 1617. If any voters take one minute to complete the whole process, ( voting 8 time in north and 12 in the south) that means you need around 1617 minutes (27 hours) in the three days of voting.

– The centres open from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm that means 11 hours per day, i.e. 33 hours for the 3 days of voting. That is fine if the process of completing the voting only take one minute per voter.

– From our mock election and voters’ education training for more than 700 trainers of trainers, I can say one minute is not enough for anyone. Even myself I will not be able to complete the ballot in one minute, and I have been studying the rules governing the election and also contributed in writing our training manual and also the production of our training video.

– NEC staff in the polling station are suppose to explain to each voter how to vote and that itself takes more than one minutes, and that is supposed to happen 3 times. The voter passes through 3 staff in the voting station. The first is supposed to give you 2 voting papers, for the election of the president and the state governor, the second 3 voting papers for the National Assembly (the geographical constituency, women’s list and the political parties list — proportion representation), and the third will do the same thing for the state legislative council. Just imagine how long that takes. In southern Sudan there is a fourth, for the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly.

– In the north you have 8 voting papers with 3 colours and 3 symbols in the National and state Assembly to differentiate between ,the constituency , women list and party list (square, circle and triangle).

– From different mock elections the result shows the following; in Warap state in the south an illiterate women took her 3 hours to fill the 12 voting papers, finalist student in University of Khartoum took him 20 minutes to fill the 8 voting papers.

– The problem is for the illiterate to remember the colours, the different symbols in the ballot, and the symbols of different candidates and political parties.

– I was explaining the process to an illiterate 60 years old lady , it almost took me one hours to explain but at the end she , told it is difficult for her to remember the eight different paper and it is better for her to vote just two times instead of eight.

In “Can Twitter Bird Fly in Sudan?,” Ibrahim Elbadawi looks at the role of social media in Sudan. He uses lessons learnt from Iran for his analysis. His conclusion is that “we can expect a limited use of social media in sharing election related news and media content…”:

Both Facebook groups “Girifna” which is a gathering place for those who refuse to elect President Al Bashir and the official group of the president’s campaign have barely managed to attract 5,000 members!

So to conclude, I can say that according to the proposed model we can expect a limited use of social media in sharing election related news and media content but we shouldn’t wait for a massive use the way it happened in Iran. The only thing that can change this is a serious crisis and a high international attention!

I believe the question I raised above is valid and important to discuss, but I also believe that for a young Sudanese like me there are other issues that are more important to worry about than Obama’s decision and the upcoming election. My real concern when it comes to online social media is: how can we leverage social media to promote good governance and enable social change in Sudan?

We have come across a few election related social media projects in Sudan. Ibrahim mentions Girifna in his pot. Girifna, which means “I am fed up”, is a movement made up of voting rights activists in Sudan. Apart from being on Facebook, the movement has a YouTube channel and a website.

The Sudan Electionnaire is a quiz that compares your views on 30 debated issues with the positions of the 16 main parties for the upcoming elections in April 2010. Once you complete the set of questions a concluding ranking shows how your answers match party programmes.

Sudan votes! But which party is yours? What are the parties’ real positions? Understand the positions of the main parties and find out which party best matches your own opinions! All you have to do is answer 30 questions.

Sudan VoteMonitor is a pilot project led by the Sudan Institute for Research and Policy (SIRP) and Asmaa Society in collaboration with other Sudanese civil society organizations, and supported by eMoksha.org and Ushahidi.com. The project uses Ushahidi to collect election related data using SMS and email:

The purpose of this initiative is to utilize information and communication technology (ICT) to support the independent monitoring and reporting of the election process and results. Over the last three years, civil society organizations (CSOs) in several countries have succeeded in using ICT tools to support the conduct of fair and credible elections.

This is possible through the utilization of open source software and support of volunteers from Ushahidi, a platform that allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline

Below is Day 1 Preliminary Report from Sudan Vote Monitor:

Sudan Vote Monitor Day 1 Preliminary Report

Sudan Vote Monitor concluded a very successful launch day with a total of 52 online reports in 12 categories, and 106 SMS messages from 253 locations across Sudan. There were no reports of system access issues and all operations were normal.

The following are some basic statistics for today April 11, 2010*

Online Reports: Total 52

2 – INFLAMATORY SPEECH

11 – VOTING ACCESS

12 – DISTURBANCES (INCLUDING VIOLENCE)

15 – VOTE TAMPERING

1 – ILLEGAL CAMPAIGNING

5 – VOTER HARASSAMENT

6 – WHAT WENT WELL

SMS Messages: Total 106

2 – INFLAMATORY SPEECH

5 – VOTING ACCESS

3 – DISTURBANCES (INCLUDING VIOLENCE)

11 – VOTE TAMPERING

6 – ILLEGAL CAMPAIGNING

6 – VOTER HARASSAMENT

63 – WHAT WENT WELL

10 – UNCLASSIFIED


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