(By Hildebrand Bijleveld)
The elections in Sudan will be one of the most complicated voting processes in the world. The system is a hybrid of direct nationwide voting for presidential candidates, regional voting for state governor candidates, direct voting for state and national assembly candidates by geographic constituency, and indirect voting for assembly candidates on party slates and even party women’s lists. Women will be elected from separate lists to a set minimum number of parliamentary seats — a novelty in the world of democracy. Around 85,000 staff will be involved in manning the 17,000 polling centers.
Sudanese voters each have to cast at least eight votes on different ballots. The Southern voters each have 12 votes to fill in on separate ballot papers. So the 12 million Northern voters will potentially fill in 104 million ballots. The 4 million Southerners will have to tick another 50 million votes on separate forms to be put in separate ballot boxes. Potentially, there could be up to 150 million votes to count. It will be the first elections for Southern Sudan since 1953. Altogether there are 17,000 candidates running for office. None of them are permitted to contest for two positions simultaneously.
For what offices are the Sudanese electing their politicians?
The Northerners and Southerners are choosing first of all one of the 12 presidential candidates. The second choice for each voter is for the governor of one of the 24 states (South and West Kordofan are merged and will have delayed state elections).
Votes numbers three, four and five will be cast for candidates standing for office in the 450-seat National Assembly. One of these ballots is for a candidate from the voter’s respective local geographic constituency (270 seats, 60% of the total, are assigned for the regional candidates), the second goes to a woman on the separate women’s list (113 seats, 25%) and the third is assigned to the parties (67 seats, 15%). The same division applies to votes numbers six, seven and eight but these are for the respective state assembly rather than the national one.
The Southerners have another four ballots to fill. One is for the president of Southern Sudan whose role will be to prepare for next year’s referendum on separation or unity with the North. The other remaining three of the total 12 votes will be cast for the Southern Assembly, with again a local representative, a female politician and a representative whom the voter’s preferred political party will choose. These party and women lists will be different for every state in Sudan.
How will that work out?
In a small pilot amongst more educated voters — actually the ones who have to run the polling stations later — they were able to finish the process in around 17 minutes. In the South over half of the population is illiterate, in the North one third. The cues in front of the polling station will be long and polling will last at least three days, starting the 11th and ending the 13th of April. Most probably the stations will have to remain open for at least one extra day.
The elections stem from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government of President Omar al Bashir. He is a military man who started in 1989 a bloodless coup against the last democratically elected government. Part of the peace agreement was a commitment to conduct a general election in 2009, but due to delays the date was postponed to April 2010. Prior to elections, the government held a population count (census). This was needed to determine the number of seats to be allocated to each state in the National Assembly based on the number of citizens in each state. The highly disputed outcome calculated a total of 40 million Sudanese, four times as many as 60 years ago when Sudan became independent. Many of the millions living in the displaced camps in Darfur and in the refugee camps in Eastern Chad were not included. The census and the subsequent division of voters into regions sparked a shower of complaints. Especially in Southern Kordofan and Darfur several ethnic groups felt betrayed by the borders that were drawn randomly in their view. They are a majority in their region, but the designers in Khartoum divided them over three new regions where they have become a minority. None of the complaints have resulted in new borders.
Who is allowed to vote?
Only people who have been registered are allowed to vote in April. The voluntary registration of voters started in November 2009. But still the final list of 16 million voters has not been released nor officially approved. In order to be registered the person had to be 18 years old, have Sudanese nationality and be mentally capable. The person should have lived at least three months in the locality of voting prior to registration. To simplify the system and not to exclude the vast majority of Sudanese without official identification cards, the National Election Commission allowed registering without any identity card. In case the chairman of the polling station had doubts about the person’s information, he was allowed to require witnesses to testify the person was indeed a citizen of that village or locality. The election commission has not been able to crosscheck people registering in different localities. It is generally expected that many thousands of people have been double registered. Even so, the ink finger on election day will possibly prevent them later from voting twice. Another factor is that it was poorly explained to millions of displaced Southerners around Khartoum that that they could still register themselves even though they had not been counted during the census. They had not wanted to be counted for the census, which added to the relative weight of the Northerners in the capital of Khartoum in the census results. So the Southerners mistakenly thought that they would also be excluded from the voter registration.
Finally, around 16 million people are supposedly to be found on the comprehensive voters list. But nobody knows yet who made it to the list and who did not. Around 4 million voters are living in Southern Sudan, another 4 million have been registered in Darfur (excluding nearly all the 2,5 million displaced people).
What will happen the day before elections start?
On 9 April all candidates are allowed to campaign until twelve at night. After midnight all signs referring to a candidate or political party will have to be removed. During the entire 10th of April politicians are supposed to stop talking politics and the media are not allowed to discuss political issues or candidates. On that day the people are only allowed to encourage each other to vote. General announcements to activate the electorate are allowed.
When do voters have to go?
During the three election days (11,12,13 April) the polling centers are open from 8 in the morning until 6 in the afternoon. Everybody who enters the queue before 6 PM should be allowed to vote. The Queue Controller is in charge under the Head of the Polling Center. Unless the polling center has electricity, at the approach of sunset the head of the polling station may ask the voters to return the next day. On the last day of voting the election commission will decide whether the people had enough chance to vote or that an extra election day is required.
Where do people have to vote?
The voters will have to go to the polling center where they have been registered. A polling center in the main towns will include several polling stations. Inside each polling station there is a screen with a shelf to write on. Only one person at a time is allowed to enter. Only handicapped people are allowed to be accompanied.
How do people identify themselves at the station?
When the voter arrives he will announce his name to the Identification Officer, who first verifies that the voter has not been inked in order to avoid a person voting twice. He asks the name of the person and requests to be shown the identity card or a document that proves the name of the person who is showing up. If the person cannot show such a document, then Identifiers at the polling station may be able to confirm the person’s identity. Often family or relatives of the potential voters are allowed to help with identifying the person. If the person’s name is confirmed, the Identifier will check for the name on the Final Voters List. If the name is not there, he will not be allowed to vote. If it is, then the Identifier will tick the name of the registered voter.
What if a voter lost his registration slip?
The registration slip is not required. The slip might help to convince the Identifying Officer when a person cannot himself present identification papers and nobody else can identify the voter as being the person he claims to be.
How does the inking work?
After the name of the voter has been confirmed he will have to dip his left index finger (pointer finger) in an ink bottle with green ink. The finger has to be held in the air for ten seconds to dry and to avoid staining the ballot papers. The ink will stick for ten days.
What if a voter just had a henna party or is missing the left index finger?
The traditional henna party, mainly for women, could leave ink on fingers. In that case the Inking Officer will attach a spot of ink between the index and middle finger. The same applies to someone without an index finger. When someone is missing a left hand, the ink dip will be allowed with the right hand. Someone missing both hands will be treated according to whatever inventive solution the inking officer can think of.
How many ballot papers do voters receive?
After they ink their finger, the voters in the North receive three sets of ballot papers. The official will stamp each ballot paper on the back at the bottom right. He will explain briefly how to handle the forms. In the first time step the voters will vote for the executive positions (the presidency and the state governorships) and for each they receive a separate paper. Then the voters move to the second step. They will receive three ballot papers for the National Assembly: one to elect the state representative, one for the female representative and one for a political party. After casting these three votes, they go to phase three, with three different ballot papers to elect the State Assembly; again they receive three papers, one to elect the local representative, one for the female representative and one for a political party. For the Northerners, their job is finished. The Southerners have another four ballot papers to go: they also have to vote for the Southern president and the Southern Legislative Assembly, with three votes, one for the regional representative, one for the female politician and one for a political party of their choice.
What does a ballot paper look like?
The ballot papers have different designs. The ballot paper for the president is green, the ballot for the president of South Sudan is blue. They both have the symbol of the party of the candidate and a picture of each candidate next to his name. The party name is not printed on the ballot. The ballot for the governor is yellow and also has a picture of the candidate next to his name. The ballot for the National Assembly is brownish red and for the State Assembly is grey. In the South there is a purple ballot for the Southern Legislative Assembly. As to the papers for the legislative representatives there are no pictures printed on them, but only the name of the person and the symbol of the party. According to the handbook for the polling centers, the choice for the women’s lists can only be made by their party name, while their own names do not appear on the ballot. This could be a mistake. However, on the ballot papers for the regional or local candidate a square appears, for the women a circle, and for the party a triangle is printed in the right corner.
How does the voter tick the right box?
The voter has to put a proper and clear sign within the circle in the left column. He may put a cross or V inside the circle, but the sign has to remain inside the circle, otherwise the vote is not valid. After someone has marked the box, he will fold the papers and put it in the ballot box. A ballot paper with more than one mark will be considered invalid.
What if a voter doesn’t read Arabic?
There is no problem, since the text is printed in English and Arabic.
What if you can’t read?
On the ballot for the executive ballots (President and Governor), there is a picture of the candidate and the symbol of the party. The others have all the party symbols next to the candidate and party names.
What if you made a mistake?
In case of mistake, a person can make his paper invalid and return it to the issuing officer. He will take the paper in and put it in a special envelope. The voter will receive a new officially stamped paper.
How are the votes counted?
After the last voter has put his ballot papers in the ballot box, the polling station closes. The pencils and pens will be collected and during the counting no one is allowed to have a pencil, except the counting officer. The seal at the bottom of the ballot box will be broken in the presence of the polling station staff. The counting will start immediately and should continue not interrupted until the last paper has been counted. Sometimes people might have put their ballot paper in the wrong ballot box. That can be corrected and the ballot can still be counted. After the votes are counted and forms filled, the ballots will be put in a special plastic bag that cannot be reopened after it has been closed with a strip.
Who announces the results?
At each polling station the Head of the Polling Center announces verbally and publicly the results before the information goes to the Constituency Election Officer (a regional position). That officer sends the results to the Returning Officer in each state. All the state results end up at the National Elections Commissions (NEC). This commission will announce the formal and final results after adding all the results.
How long will it take to announce the results?
The local results might be announced the same or next day after the stations are closed. It will take time to collect all the results from all the polling stations and to transfer them to Khartoum. It might take a week or longer for the NEC to announce the final results.
Who handles the ballot papers?
The Returning Officer is in charge of handling and transporting the ballot boxes to the central collection point in Khartoum. The police, the government, any political party or anyone else are prohibited from touching the ballot papers or the boxes.
What if the number of votes does not match the ballot papers issued?
Each station has to reconcile the number of issued ballot papers to the number of votes. Discrepancies can be attributed to invalid or non-marked ballots or because the papers ended up in the wrong box. These discrepancies will be explained in a special form. In case the differences are big, a recount might be needed or the outcome will be disputed.
What happens when irregularities are reported?
There is no independent complaint mechanism. Complaints can be filed at each polling center to be written in a logbook. Party observers can issue such a complaint. The complaint will be sent to the National Elections Commission for investigation. If the commission dismisses the complaint, parties can go to the Supreme Court. The members of the Supreme Court are appointed by President Omar al Bashir who also is running for office. So a final independent judgment cannot be guaranteed.
What happened with the over 800 complaints made during the voter registration period?
Of all 800 complaints around 750 were immediately dismissed. Another 50 cases were investigated, but only three were finally approved and recognized as irregularities. Most complaints were missing hard evidence. On the other hand, the NEC made no serious attempt to do its own investigations.
Are all people registered?
Out of the 40 million Sudanese, approximately 26 to 30 million people are 18 years of age or older. Only 16 million people of those have been registered. That is over half but less than two-thirds of the people who are eligible. Especially the 2,5 million displaced people in Darfur and many displaced people in Khartoum State have not been registered. Some people claim it has been done purposely, since these displaced people are likely to vote against the ruling party. But also the opposition movements have obstructed registration, especially the Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement, which both called on their supporters in Darfur not to participate. Since Khartoum State has a high number of displaced people and the SPLM and main opposition parties did not call for obstructing the elections, it seems the registration there was purposely downplayed by the executive authorities. The political contest in Khartoum State could have been interesting had all legally eligible voters been properly registered. Instead, only 1,9 million have registered, leaving at least one third of the adult population excluded from the polling stations.