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Boycotts mar Sudan elections

Candidates pull out, charging that President Omar al-Bashir has rigged the polls.

Sudan at the edge. The national elections, April 11-13, will point the way to the country's future. A Sudanese Dinka tribeswoman stands outside her hut as a storm gathers in the village of Mvolo in Western Equatorial State, April 7, 2010. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

JUBA, South Sudan — Voters in Africa’s largest country are going to the polls Sunday through Tuesday in Sudan’s first multi-party election in more than two decades, but a raft of last minute boycotts have undermined the credibility of the vote.

President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur since 2003, is largely unopposed after the main opposition candidates pulled out to protest alleged rigging and intimidation by his National Congress Party (NCP).

Meanwhile, in the semi-autonomous south, Salva Kiir, president of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), is unlikely to face a serious challenge from his main opponent Lam Akol, leader of a splinter group of the ruling Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Critics say the election, written into the U.S.-backed Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended decades of north-south civil war in 2005, is offering Sudan’s 16 million voters little real choice and so will not reflect the will of the people.

“My concern is there won’t be any real choice,” Kennet Korayi, a Sudanese civil society activist, told GlobalPost. “The remaining presidential candidates are ideologically the same, in the south even the independent candidates are really SPLM.”

Others have criticized the sudden decisions by opposition party bigwigs to boycott sections of the vote irrespective of the will of the people.

“Recent events have thrown people into confusion because in a very short space of time there have been very rapid and significant changes,” said Leben Nelson Moro, a professor at Juba University.

Sudan is a vast country wracked by poverty despite the billions of dollars of annual oil wealth, much of which is siphoned off by corrupt leaders or spent on bloated defense budgets and political patronage.

Khartoum has boomed while Darfur burned and although the southern capital Juba has new roads and shiny buildings these symbols of development end before the city limits.

The presidential, parliamentary and governorship elections have been delayed time and again but are now expected to go ahead, with the first of three days of voting beginning on Sunday.

Bashir wants a victory at the polls to legitimize his rule. He seized power in a military coup in 1989 and has not yet been elected to office. In addition Bashir wants to win the elections to defy the ICC arrest warrant.