Why Sudan's leading opposition party threw the presidential election.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
April 28 2010 11:54 AM

How To Throw an Election

Why did Sudan's leading opposition party go to great lengths to avoid winning the presidency?

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Click image to expand.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

What's Sudan like? It's the kind of place where the leading opposition party will do anything to avoid winning the presidency.

Notwithstanding the best efforts of the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Movement to help him over the finish line, it appears alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir still may not have received 51 percent of the vote in Sudan's landmark elections. This despite massive rigging and fraud in favor of Bashir's National Congress Party.

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Sudan's grapevine was crackling last week with giddy talk that Bashir didn't meet the threshold needed to avoid a runoff election. It was just talk—by the time the results were announced on Monday, the final tallies were fixed to assure the stick-waving field marshal a mandate with 68percent of the vote.

But there is a real chance that even after ballot-stuffing and voting by children, Bashir still didn't make his numbers.

It's funny, but it also underlines just how dead the idea of a united, democratic, and plural Sudan is.

On paper, that's what Sudan's 21-year civil war was all about. More than 2 million people died in that terrible religious-themed conflict between the Muslim, Arab-led north and the pagan and Christian black south. In reality, almost no one in the south bought the unity line except their charismatic (and autocratic) leader, John Garang. Garang, a favorite of the West, negotiated Sudan's 2005 peace treaty, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that finally ended the war. The document was essentially written to ensure he would be elected Sudan's first black president.

Those were happy days.

But when Garang died in a July 2005 helicopter crash, the Sudanese people were left with an interim constitution built on the fallacy that the black south and the Arab-dominated north would together strive to create a new Sudan.

Instead, Bashir outflanked his southern partners in the new Government of National Unity, denying them control of the key oil and finance ministries (most of Sudan's oil lies in the south) and sowing mischief along the contested north-south border. In the newly autonomous south, the separatism that Garang had forcibly suppressed became, overnight, the region's acknowledged core value.

Which brings us to the elections that concluded April 15. They were sordid. But was the challenge insurmountable?