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Sudan's al-Bashir wins in result set to split country

Tarnished elections prepare way for referendum on independence of south.

A supporter of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir holds a flag to celebrate in Khartoum, April 26, 2010. Bashir has won Sudan's first open elections in 24 years in a result that confirms in office the only sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. (Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The election victory of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, wanted for alleged war crimes committed in Darfur, paves the way for Africa’s largest country to split in two next year.

Bashir is claiming a tarnished victory as the polls were marked by glaring flaws noted by observer groups, but Western powers are expected to accept the result.

Electoral officials in the capital Khartoum announced today that al-Bashir, leader of the National Congress Party (NCP), won 68 percent of the national vote in the country’s first multiparty election in 24 years.

In semi-autonomous southern Sudan, Salva Kiir of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), like al-Bashir an incumbent at the head of a hegemonic party, won a landslide 93 percent of the southern vote and will continue as both the south’s president and Bashir’s first deputy vice-president.

This $300 million exercise in democracy has changed little: Roughly 10 million voted, many for the first time, but al-Bashir remains in charge in the north, Kiir remains in charge in the south and both men are set to continue leading a coalition government that will take the country
to a referendum on southern independence in January 2011.

That referendum, all but certain to divide the country in two and redraw the colonial-era boundaries, was written into a U.S.-backed peace deal in 2005 that ended a decades-long civil war between the north and the south.

With that goal of self-determination in mind, Western powers seem unconcerned by the litany of complaints leveled at the elections by local and international observer groups as well as opposition politicians, many of whom announced last minute boycotts, giving al-Bashir a clear run at the presidency.

Al-Bashir’s NCP is accused of redrawing constituency boundaries in its favor, employing state resources for party campaigning, bribing officials, manipulating voter registers, intimidating the electorate and the opposition and stuffing ballot boxes.

In preliminary statements, both the Carter Center and European Union election observers said the election fell short of international standards, yet White House officials indicated even before the results were announced that they would continue to work with al-Bashir.