Vote monitors: Sudan elections short of standards

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — International monitors said Saturday that Sudan's first multiparty elections in more than two decades failed to meet international standards, an assessment that diminishes hopes the voting would set the nation on the road to peace and democracy.

The conclusions also boosted fears that a flawed vote could fuel violence in the conflict-strewn country, where some opposition parties challenging the fairness of the process boycotted all or some of the local and national races.

However, the observers did not call for a revote, and instead recommended that lessons drawn from the process be applied to next year's crucial referendum on southern independence.

Another setback for the vote came Saturday from a prominent opposition party, which said it would not recognize the election results, citing allegations of vote rigging by President Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party.

The five days of voting, which ended Thursday, were the first multiparty presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 24 years in Sudan. They were a key requirement of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the country's predominantly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south. The conflict left some 2 million people dead.

A monitoring team from the European Union said Saturday that key aspects of the election process were undermined. Names were missing from voter registries, election resources were not evenly spread to all parts of the vast country and there were cases of voter intimidation, said Veronique de Keyser, who led the 130-member team.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who headed a separate monitoring mission from his organization, came to a similar conclusion.

"It is too early to offer a final, overall assessment, but it is obvious that the elections will fall short of international standards," Carter said at a news conference. "The people's expectations have not been met."

Preliminary results from the presidential race showed the incumbent al-Bashir had won between 88 percent and 94 percent of votes counted after his most credible challengers dropped out of the race in protest.

Despite a standing international warrant for al-Bashir's arrest for alleged war crimes in the Darfur conflict, he was widely expected to win another five-year term. Final results are expected this week.

"Although these elections paved the way for democratic progress, it is essential that the shortcomings are addressed," de Keyser told reporters in the capital, Khartoum.

The EU mission had 130 observers at 13 percent of the country's polling stations. De Keyser said voter turnout was "very high" at 60 percent.

The Carter Center also pressed the need for a fair election process in the fragile country.

It said in its report that "subtle or forceful" intimidation was reported in many states, and security agents in uniforms or plain clothes have reportedly interfered in the election process, particularly in the south.

"Voters, candidates, polling staff, party agents and observers were the target of such intimidation," the report said. "The overall effect on free elections is worrying."

Also Saturday, Hassan Turabi, the head of the opposition Islamic Popular Congress Party, refused to accept the election results, saying incoming results were marred by "shameful fraud and blatant forgery." He vowed to challenge the results in court.

"We will not recognize the outcome of the elections except in flash points," he said.

Turabi was the brain behind the coup that brought al-Bashir to power in 1989, but the two had a falling out a decade ago. He was jailed last year for urging al-Bashir to face international war crimes charges tied to the conflict in Darfur, where Turabi has a strong following.

Another opposition party, the Democratic Unionist Party, also said it will not recognize results from the eastern province of Kassala, because of "irregularities."

Besides the north-south civil war, Sudan has been beset by a separate conflict in the western region of Darfur between government forces and rebel groups. An estimated 300,000 people died of violence, disease and displacement in that conflict, which began in 2003.

The elections are expected to keep in power in the semiautonomous south the region's largest party, the Sudan's People Liberation Movement, where it remains the best organized political force.

The SPLM is also a junior member of the national government. It boycotted the elections in the north, but is keen to see the vote accepted to ensure the 2011 referendum on southern secession proceeds as planned. Al-Bashir had threatened the referendum could be derailed if elections didn't go ahead on time.


Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.