Rift Valley report criticises international endorsement of S. Kordofan’s elections

August 27, 2011 (Sudan Tribune)

A report released this month by the UK-based Rift Valley Institute is highly critical of the endorsement given to the crucial South Kordofan gubernatorial elections suggesting that the results "may have been manipulated".

The vote held last May was particularly crucial as there are clear links between its outcome and the genesis of the conflict which began shortly after the results were announced.

Even though the oil-rich state is part of North Sudan, many of the state’s residents fought in the civil war with the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA), the political wing of which now rules the newly established nation of South Sudan.

Aly Verjee, the author of the report and former Deputy Director of the Carter Center’s elections observation mission in Sudan in the run up to the 2010 national elections, argues that negotiating a settlement in South Kordofan is contingent upon acknowledgement of the “problematic aspects” of the gubernatorial election there.

Verjee is critical of what he believes was observers’ failure to learn from Sudan’s past electoral history, especially in the context of such a hotly disputed election, won by such a small margin.

The National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the disputed gubernatorial election was won by the National Congress Party’s candidate, Ahmed Haroun, who has suspended the Popular Consultation process in South Kordofan.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Haroun in 2007 for war crimes and crimes against humanity when he managed the Darfur Security Desk as Minister of Interior.

The published results show Haroun to have 46.08 percent of the vote and the SPLM candidate, Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu with 44.60 percent. With such a narrow margin, as Verjee notes, “the magnitude of otherwise marginal problems is increased”.

Last May’s election result were swiftly endorsed by the Carter Center which described the vote as “generally peaceful and credible”.

Verjee surmises that if there were irregularities in one percent of the ballots cast, the outcome of the vote could have been different.

According to the report, not only did the Sudanese Group for Democracy and Elections note multiple instances of malpractice in the vote, the Carter Center itself observed that in 58 percent of polling stations “staff failed to check voters’ hands for ink before allowing them to vote”; this could result in individuals voting more than once.

Verjee speculates that “the observers deemed that the malpractice was attempted equally by NCP [National Congress Party] and SPLM supporters, or that such manipulation favoured the defeated SPLM”, but notes that this cannot be established statistically, describing it as “erroneous” to suggest that systemic malpractice is beyond reproach.

Suggestive of malpractice, notes the report, is the concentration of spoiled ballots in areas where another gubernatorial candidate, Telefon Kuku, received a significant proportion of the vote, such as in his home area of Boram (Northern Al Boram Southern Al Boram constituencies) where he gained more than five percent of the vote. At 16 percent, the proportion of the ballots spoiled was twice the state average in these areas.

Telefon Kuku contested the election despite being held in custody in South Sudan’s capital Juba.

Running concurrently with the gubernatorial vote in the state were the political party elections and women’s list ballots. The report notes that the SPLM beat the NCP in both these votes by 2 percent. Verjee describes it as “odd” that that the SPLM did not gain much more than a thousand votes in the gubernatorial contest over its best performance in the women’s list proportional race (from 193,891 to 194,955) whereas by comparison the NCP was able to pick up about 15,000 more votes (from 186,422 to 201,455).

Verjee’s report finds “serious deficiencies” in the observers’ approach, which has failed to build confidence in the electoral process and notes that comparison of the gubernatorial elections and the two proportional representation votes reveals incongruities “that suggest the gubernatorial result may have been manipulated.”

Aggrieved parities could have pursued a legal solution to the alleged malpractice in the vote, but as Verjee points out, the Carter Center’s conclusions on the inadequacies of the legal complaint process “confirmed the futility of such an exercise”.

Tensions have flared in the state after South Sudan seceded last month, taking with it 75% of Sudan’s oil.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled since fighting broke out there in early June between Sudan’s army and SPLA fighters, many of them from South Kordofan’s ethnic Nuba group.

A 12-page report by the UN human rights office this month documented alleged violations in the state capital Kadugli and the surrounding Nuba mountains including extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of homes and mass displacement.

The allegations, "if substantiated, could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes", say the UN.

Most of the reported violations were blamed on Sudan’s army and its allied militias but the SPLA also reportedly mined parts of Kadugli, it said.


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