Sudanese elections could be delayed: southern minister

By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan
Sept 11, 2008 (Reuters)

National elections in Sudan may be delayed by at least six months, a senior southern official said, a development that could push back other elements of a peace accord between the country's north and south.

Luka Biong, the southern Minister for Presidential Affairs, told Reuters it would not be feasible to hold the elections before the agreed cut-off point of July 2009 because of heavy rains and logistical problems.

Sudan's first democratic elections in 23 years are a vital element of the 2005 peace accord that ended more than two decades of conflict between north and south. It gave the south its own semi-autonomous government and promised political reform in Africa's largest country.

Any serious hold up in the poll could undermine public confidence in the accord and delay parts of it, analysts said. "Practically, it won't be feasible to have them by July," Luka Biong said late Wednesday.

His party, the south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), was considering calling a meeting with the northern National Congress Party to arrange a change in the date. "We have a lot of reasons why it should be extended to the end of the year but this is subject to the approval of the two parties," he said.

Torrential rains that normally fall around July could disrupt the polling process, Biong said. More time was also needed to set up civic education sessions to prepare the public. There had also been delays in appointing the members of a National Electoral Commission.

Other leading figures in the south have also raised worries about delays in processing the results of a national census that will be used to set out candidates and constituencies.

No one was available for comment from the National Congress Party.


Ashraf Qazi, head of the U.N. mission in Sudan, last month said northern and southern leaders would have to work hard to meet the July deadline. They still had to demarcate their shared border, particularly in the contested oil-rich region of Abyei.

Political analyst Alfreed Lokuji said a delay would raise worries over the timing of a referendum on independence for the south, promised in 2011 under the peace deal. "It is important to do things on time. If we (the south) ask for a delay on the elections they (the north) could ask for a delay on the referendum," he said.

Martin Aligo, a member of the south's opposition Union of Sudan African Parties, criticised the southern government for not getting plans in place quick enough. "What have we been doing all this time? We could have put things in place," he said. "It could even delay the referendum."

Sudan analyst John Ashworth said a serious hold-up could undermine confidence among southerners, many of whom still distrust Khartoum. But he added it might be worth putting up with a delay if it meant the elections process ran smoothly. "The elections must be seen to work, otherwise they are also destabilizing," he said.

Although the peace accord has largely held, north-south relations have remained tense and both sides have accused the other of obstructing its implementation. The north-south conflict claimed 2 million lives and pitted the Islamist Khartoum government against mostly Christian and animist southern rebels.


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