Southern Sudan: Elections - what needs to be done?
16 October 2009

The Nile valley near Nimule. Southern Sudan's lush expanse of land is ready for farming, it's residents ready for peace. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
To make lasting peace a reality in Sudan, Sudanese have the utmost responsibility to address the challenges facing the electoral process.
Juba, 16 October 2009 — The forthcoming elections in Sudan are considered a major milestone in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the democratic transformation process in Sudan. They were scheduled to take place in November this year, then later postponed to February 2010 and lastly to April 2010 due to delays in the preparation. Whereas many discussions, plans and projects, like political gatherings and conferences, are geared towards the elections and the time after, there are many challenges that are surrounding and threatening the process now and that have to be dealt with in order to ensure a peaceful future for Southern Sudan. 

According to an IRIN report from October 2nd, some 20 political parties – among them the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) - recently issued a new boycott threat in Juba, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan. The parties demanded changes to laws relating to civil liberties, such as press freedom and democracy and a solution to the row over the results of a census. Their threat illustrates how the elections “could destabilise the country and further undermine an already shaky peace deal between north and south,” the report says. According to US Special Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, a number of very difficult issues like passing of legislative laws, election training, voter education, security and monitoring need to be tackled to ensure a peaceful election process.

To make lasting peace a reality in Sudan, Sudanese have the utmost responsibility to address the challenges facing the electoral process. Many still believe that this election will not be held or even if held, will not bring peace. However, the 20 political parties that have issued the boycott threat have shown political willingness to look into the challenges that are blocking the process. In September, they came together to look at issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure free and fair elections. They believe that Sudanese issues have to be resolved first and foremost by Sudanese People. Civil society has also become more involved. In September, a coalition of over 78 civil society organisations came together to educate voters in order to elect good leaders for the country.

Preparing for an election

Should the democratic transformation process in Sudan fail it will also be seen as a failure of the international community to address the Sudan issue. “Neither the SPLM nor the National Congress Party (NCP) was keen to include elections in the CPA negotiations, foreign sponsors of the peace process were convinced polls would help reverse the extreme centralization of power that has long been a major driver of conflict in Sudan,” it says in the IRIN report. Efforts in terms of advocacy, mediation and pressurising the central government in Khartoum have been made to ensure the implementation of the CPA. However, more pressure needs to be put on both parties and more diplomatic efforts have to be made to ensure their differences are ironed out and the peace process is safeguarded. Without these efforts, all development achieved during the past four years and all investments that have gone into Sudan are likely to have been in vain.

As part of its commitment to build civil society and contribute to a prevailing peace in Sudan, JRS has been conducting election trainings and workshops teaching participants how to vote at grassroots level. The JRS peace building programme has been targeting communities and schools, building awareness about people’s rights and duties when participating in the electoral process. These activities aim at avoiding manipulation and corruption and are meant to help the community vote their leaders wisely. For many Sudanese it will be the first time to vote.

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