Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Election Commission Slammed

Accusations levelled that electoral irregularities are not being properly dealt with.
By Abdhalla Tajeldin, Assadig Mustafa Zakaria Musa, Blake Evans-Pritchard

With less than two weeks before Sudan's first national election in 25 years, the body charged with making sure everything runs smoothly has been accused of not adequately dealing with complaints.

The National Election Commission, NEC, was created under the 2008 National Elections Act, and is tasked with making sure that all those taking part in the poll adhere to this legislation.

But critics have questioned the organisation's independence, and accused it of not following up on reports of irregularities.

Last week, the Carter Center, one of the official election observers in the country, suggested that the polls should be slightly delayed, in order to give the NEC a chance to resolve some logistical difficulties which were straining its “limited capacity”.

The statement from the Carter Center continued, "With a series of delays and changes in polling procedures, a minor delay in polling for operational purposes may be required."

They also claimed that "the process remains at risk on multiple fronts including the ability of candidates to campaign freely and the impact of delayed logistical preparations by the NEC".

This did not go down well with President Omar al-Bashir, who responded by threatening the United States-based NGO with expulsion.

Mekki Ali Balail, the head of Sudan's Justice and Liberation Party, which is contesting the elections in North Kordofan, says that the complaints he made to the NEC were all ignored.

“We have complained about the manipulation of state apparatus by the ruling party, including the manipulation of the media and the division of constituencies,” he said.

“But all these written and documented complaints were thrown out. [On this basis] we consider the NEC to be biased and lacking the minimum standard of neutrality.”

Ali Balail says that the NEC rejected his complaints on the grounds of insufficient evidence, but he disputes this claim, insisting that the electoral body should at least have opened investigations.

Al-Abagir Al-Afif, an adviser to the Carter Center, maintains that many other complaints have also not been investigated by the NEC.

Of particular concern recently has been the printing of voting cards inside Sudan by a government-owned company, despite strong feeling within the country that all cards should be produced abroad.

“There was a strong protest by political parties because this will open the gate for fraud,” he said. “The same printing company that issued millions of cards inside Sudan could double that number, and this could be used to rig the election [by ballot box stuffing].”

The NEC, however, insists that it has acted according to its mandate, and that many of the complaints which it has thrown out have been unjustified.

“I implement the election law from A to Z,” said Alhadi Mohammed Ahmed, the head of the complaints section at the NEC.

“There is no agreement of any kind between the NEC and the political parties to print election cards outside Sudan and there is no provision in the election law that says the election cards should be printed outside the country.

“[The political parties] have no legal right to claim that I must consult with them on these managerial issues.”

Another complaint that has surfaced is that members of the armed forces are being registered at their places of work rather than where they are resident, despite provisions in the 2008 Election Act that prohibits this.

Osman Hummaida, executive director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, which has published a detailed report on the registration process, explained, “[Members of] the armed forces should be registered at their residence because... if any additional names [are] added on a list of a particular residential area people can challenge [it].”

But the NEC says the practice is not widespread.

“This point should not be generalised,” Alhadi said. “In Khartoum, there is a certain group that is responsible for providing protection during the election. We have registered them at their work location because, during the election and by virtue of their responsibilities, they will not be at home.”

Alhadi says that the number of military personnel in this situation is relatively small. However, Hummaida disagrees.

“This is completely not true. This phenomenon has occurred and is practised in all parts of Sudan, from the East to the North to the West,” he said.

Mohammed Shzali, a Khartoum-based lawyer, says that serious complaints often get ignored because there is no adequate legal structure in place for launching proper investigations.

“The election law says that corrupt and illegal practices should be dealt with by the courts,” he said. “If you complain to the NEC, the only thing they can do is refer your case to the court, because investigating [such allegations] is the task of the judiciary.”

But there is concern that the special election courts, which should deal with serious allegations of fraud or corruption, have not yet been set up.

“This is one of the biggest shortcomings of the election law because the law speaks about a court which does not exist,” Shzali said. “There has been no outcome of any kind based on the legal challenges raised and until a special court is created nothing will happen.”

Other lawyers claim that the courts have been set up, but are not functioning properly.

Ahmed Sharif, a lawyer from Nyala, told IWPR about one complaint, which was brought to the attorney general's office in Nyala but could not be investigated because there was no team of prosecutors to deal with the case.

“I know that there is a special court for the election, headed by Judge Ahmed Al-Mustafa, with two other judges. They just haven't started their work yet,” he said.

However, the NEC dismisses such criticism.

“All over Sudan these courts have been set up and they are functioning,” Alhadi said. “If the NEC has committed any mistakes or irregularities there is a competent court that anyone can go and bring their case to. [The problem is that people] are not bringing their claims to the courts.”

The election is due to take place between April 11 and April 13. Both the NEC and the ruling National Congress Party, NCP, have rejected calls to postpone the election, saying it will take place on these dates.

Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam is a Radio Dabanga reporter and IWPR trainee.
Assadig Musa is working with Radio Dabanga.
Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague and producer of a radio show for Radio Dabanga about justice issues.
Blake Evans-Pritchard is IWPR's Africa Editor.

The article was produced in cooperation with Radio Dabanga (http://www.radiodabanga.org/), a radio station for Darfuris run by Darfuris from The Netherlands.