KHARTOUM - Sudan was voting Monday in elections boycotted by the mainstream opposition that are expected to extend the quarter-century rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on war crimes charges.
With 15 little-known candidates running against him, 71-year-old Bashir is virtually unchallenged in the vote, which has already been criticised by the international community.
Voters will also choose national and state lawmakers in the three-day poll, with Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party expected to dominate.
The streets of the capital were quiet throughout the day, after the government declared a national holiday late the night before the vote. Bashir voted early at the St Francis School, smiling and waving as he entered the polling station with one of his two wives amid heavy security. Journalists outnumbered voters.
As the polling station in the Al-Daim school in Khartoum closed at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT), there were around a dozen people waiting to cast their ballots. But Babikir al-Mubarak, who owns a shop down the road from the school, said he would not vote. “The National Congress has already won without competition,” he said. The elections are the second contested ballots since Bashir seized power in 1989.
Bashir toppled a democratically elected government in an Islamist-backed coup and is Sudan’s longest-serving leader since independence. He won a 2010 presidential election marred by an opposition boycott and criticised for failing to meet international standards.
Under Bashir, Sudan’s economy has faltered, suffering from South Sudan’s 2011 secession, which saw it lose nearly three-quarters of its oil resources.
Conflict has plagued South Kordofan and Blue Nile states since 2011, and the Darfur region since 2003. Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, and the following year for genocide.
Some 300,000 people have been killed in fighting Darfur, the United Nations says. Rebels have said they will disrupt voting across the three war-torn areas.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which is active in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, sees Bashir’s potential reelection as the “continuation of war in Sudan and instability for the whole region,” its spokesman Arnu Lodi said.
Officials had said there would be no voting in one district of Darfur and seven in South Kordofan. But an electoral official told AFP voting did not go ahead in another district in North Darfur due to a “logistical problem”. Al-Hadi Mohamed Ahmed from the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said the district would vote for three days starting on Thursday instead.
The European Union has already said the elections cannot produce a “credible” result because Bashir’s NCP snubbed a meeting with the opposition to organise a national dialogue last month.
Norway, the United States and Britain warned an environment conducive to “credible elections does not exist”. Khartoum released two leading political detainees on Thursday, a move their lawyer said was aimed at easing international pressure.
Amin Makki Madani and Farouk Abu Issa were arrested in December for joining an opposition alliance. Human rights groups have accused security services of stifling dissent ahead of the elections.
Police in Port Sudan broke up a small student demonstration against the elections on Sunday, witnesses said.
Residents of several displaced persons’ camps in Central Darfur demonstrated on Sunday and Monday, the peacekeeping force that provides their security said.
Peaceful protests “took place yesterday (Sunday) and today at Hamediya, Hassa Hissa and Khamsa Dagaig camps, near Zalengei in Central Darfur,” the United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur said.
The government has dismissed the criticism, with presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour saying the elections are “historic”. Senior NCP official Al-Haj Adam told AFP there had been a “large turnout” so far.
Forty-four parties are standing for the state and national parliaments in the country of nearly 38 million people, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said. It said 15 international organisations are observing the process but the EU, which monitored the 2010 elections, declined to send a team. Results are expected in late April.