(By Radio Dabanga)
The elections in Sudan started today but people have not turned out in large numbers in Northern Sudan. In White Nile State at least three polling stations confirmed to Radio Dabanga that the voters will not be able to vote at all today, since the ballots distributed there listed the candidates from South Kordofan and the symbols of the parties were wrongly placed.
Voter turnout is very low in Khartoum, says one of Radio Dabanga’s correspondents, and there is heavy presence of police in the streets. In South Sudan people started to come to the ballot box after midday. Many first had attended church services. The polling will continue through Monday and Tuesday.
Opposition parties have already reported 270 irregularities during the first day of voting. They allege the disappearance of candidates’ symbols from the printed ballots in certain constituencies, mainly those where NCP is considered less likely to win. The first complaints of vote rigging were received by Radio Dabanga from South Darfur. Other reports came from across Northern Sudan including Khartoum, the three states of Darfur, Northern State, White Nile, and Red Sea State.
In a polling station in Jabra in Khartoum, several boxes with votes were stolen from the station in broad daylight. The police were able to get back one of the boxes and they confiscated it. The box will not be opened until the elections are finished on Tuesday. In numerous other polling stations the wrong voter registration lists were provided to the respective centers. In Tulus the people were not able to vote due to missing registration lists.
Elsewhere, at Rafaida polling station in the Al Nahdi quarter of Nyala (the capital of South Darfur), up to this afternoon only 50 voters turned up. All were women brought by cars of the National Congress Party. The women were shown ‘sample ballots’ with President Omar Al Bashir already marked. The ballot forms for governor were also already marked with the name of Omar Suleiman, the current governor running on the ticket of the National Congress Party of Bashir. The women explained to Radio Dabanga that they received small amounts of pocket money and others bags with sugar. They complained bitterly about the fact they were brought to the polling station by cars but had to return by their own means. They live several kilometers from the polling center and were not able to walk back. There was no public transport available. In the nearby Kalma camp, the largest IDP camp in Darfur with over 250,000 people, no one went out to vote as far as our reporters could monitor. Several rebel leaders with supporters in Kalma had called on the people to boycott the elections. Similarly, nobody from Abu Shouk IDP camp will participate, according to a camp leader who said the residents’ priority is to solve the Darfur crisis first.
Despite the total elections boycott of the SPLM in Darfur, one candidate of the SPLM continued to participate. He said he is confident he will be elected to the state legislative assembly in North Darfur.
In West Darfur, one candidate for the national assembly today announced his withdrawal over alleged registration of non-Sudanese settlers. Mohamed Abdalla El Doma, an ex-Umma Party member contesting as an independent in the constituency of Habila and Fur Baranga, said that he discovered serious irregularities concerning registration. Upon reviewing the registration lists provided by the National Elections Commission, he learned that more than 10.000 foreign settlers were registered. This number constitutes a quarter of the total voters. The source, who is also head of the Darfur Bar Association, added that the NEC set up a remote voting center controlled by a janjaweed group affiliated with the government.
Two hundred NCP supporters in Northern State voted this morning without inking their fingers. They did this so that they could vote again in the afternoon, according to gubernatorial candidate Izzedin Gafar of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
NCP voting enforced
In Kutum, in North Darfur, the party of Al Mirghani (DUP) called Radio Dabanga complaining about the theft of voter registration lists. A large group of people were forced to hand in their official voter registration slips, according to the DUP. People who wanted to vote had to promise to vote for NCP. Abdallah Abdel Ahmed Rifad described the elections in Kutum as ‘complete National Congress Party elections’. The party of Mirghani traditionally has supporters in that area and is expected to be able to compete with the NCP candidate there.
Izzedin Gafar, DUP candidate for governor of Northern State, said that the NCP candidate for the same position, former chief of national intelligence Salah Gosh, entered the polling station at Amereh Al-Jadeeda accompanied by a security detail. Izzedin Gafar accused his rival of terrorizing voters by saying “you will receive services as you vote.” He added that NCP supporters were illegally present inside the polling station asking people to vote for their party.
The national security have arrested scores of people in West Darfur. Among those arrested was a prominent family member of the Sultan of the Masalit, which is one of the largest tribes in West Darfur. Mustapha Tajeldin was taken into custody by security for having ‘informed the newspapers’ about the rigging of secondary school exams last week. The examination questions were published before the exams took place. But Tajeldin and the Massaliit are also strong opponents of the NCP. The security arrested also a number of campaigners belonging to the independent candidate in West Darfur, Ahmed Mahmoud Abdelrahman. He himself was arrested the day before the elections started, along with some of his people after returning from a political rally in El Geneina. The correspondent of Radio Dabanga noticed that the officers of the National Intelligence and Security Service are all present in the polling stations disguised in civilian clothing. They are officially not allowed to enter the stations.
No complaint forms available
The few non-NCP parties still participating in the race in North Darfur were not able to file complaints because official complaint forms were unavailable. Having used the first copies of the official form, they discovered that there were none left. Observers of political parties are allowed to monitor the election process inside the stations, but they can only file complaints through an official form. They cannot discuss nor complain verbally.
Polling stations closed
Voters in one Khartoum’s localities, Barri Lamap, faced hours of delays because of a shortage of ballots. According to NCP official Anwar Abdel Majeed, ballots for the presidency ran out after two hours. People expressed anger because only 30 ballots had been used. Majeed said the responsible official at the National Elections Commission could not be reached by phone. Instead, they phoned Nafi Ali Nafi, presidential advisor and a senior NCP leader, who reportedly responded that he would ask authorities to bring more ballots. At around 1:00 p.m. some more ballots were brought to the polling station.
Nobody from the local elections committee in Zalingei, West Darfur, showed up at two polling stations, Sasei and Abata. They remained closed until 4:00 this afternoon. Another two out of the three polling sites in Shuhada area of Zalingei were also closed, according to Ali Mohammed Haroun, an agent of the Democratic Unionist Party. Some of the voters in Shuhada were turned away despite having registration tickets because their names were supposedly not on the registration lists.
Polling did not take place at two polling stations in Dar El Salaam locality in El Fasher, North Darfur, because ballot boxes did not arrive until 4 :00 in the afternoon. The source, NCP official Abu Bakr Wakeel, said that people at the two locations were disappointed at the delay and didn’t understand the reason for it. Likewise, ballot boxes did not arrive at Yau Yau, Dreeb Alrih, Magareen and Galdi in South Darfur until 3 :00. Voting was interrupted three times at Bileil polling station because ballots ran out.
Ballots printed incorrectly
Before the elections, candidates in Sudan were allowed to select their own symbols that were supposed to be printed on the ballots. The symbols serve as an aid to illiterate voters. However, Radio Dabanga received several reports that candidates’ symbols were changed without their knowledge. An independent candidate for national parliament from the Malit constituency, east of the North Darfur capital at El Fasher, expressed surprise that his symbol was changed. Muataz Mohammed Mahmoud said that his “very well known symbol of a horse suddenly and out of the blue turned into a tiger.” He said that he had based his entire campaign on the horse symbol. Similarly, another independent candidate for national parliament, Osman Attoum from Tawila, complained that his symbol of a lock turned into a drum. He discovered this at the polling station. He called for investigation and for the election in that constituency to be postponed and reorganized because of the mistake. In Nyala, independent candidate for the national assembly Zain El Abdeen Ahmed also expressed his dismay at the change of his electoral symbol from a lorry to a bell.
Photo: Sudan´s presidential ballot (Getty Images)