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Boycotts mar Sudan elections

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

Last month the International Crisis Group (ICG) charged that Bashir had already stacked the odds in his favor by manipulating the national census and electoral register over the last two years.

Few in the south seem interested in Bashir’s shenanigans because for them the vote is one more step towards the real goal.

“People in the south are not interested in the election, it is a distraction from what they really want: independence,” said Korayi. (Read more about how the Sudan elections set the stage for independence of the south.)

According to the U.S.-brokered peace deal between north and south, a referendum will be held in January 2011 in which southerners are widely expected to vote for secession. This will split the country in two and, for the first time in Africa, redraw colonial-era boundaries.

Because most of Sudan’s oil is pumped out of southern soil there are fears that Bashir, who needs the oil revenues to prolong his hold on power, will use his victory at these elections to try to disrupt the promised referendum.

The southern government has been criticized for spending at least a quarter (and possibly much more) of its oil windfall on defense while 90 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day, but southern Sudanese analysts say this misses the main concern of the southern population.

“People here know that there is a real possibility of war. We need to get the south first then we can get development, governance, proper elections,” said Moro. “If we build now and then we go back to war what did we build for?”

The polling days are expected to be chaotic. Layers of administration mean that northern voters are supposed to cast eight separate ballots; southerners 12, as they will vote for regional as well as national governments. Ballot boxes and papers have to be distributed across 1.5 million square miles of countryside with few roads.

Added to the logistical challenges is the fact that most have never voted before and, in the south, around 85 percent are illiterate.

“How can you expect an illiterate person who has never held a pen, who has never voted before, to cast 12 ballots?” asked Korayi.