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Landmark Sudanese elections marred by confusion, delay and allegations of fraud

Sudan polling starts amidst delays and confusion. Polish president and other elites died in plane crash. Obama hosts ‘unprecedented’ nuclear summit. Death toll rises to 21 in Bangkok protests. Ousted Kyrgyz president defiant as interim leader takes office. All this and more, in today's security update.
Laura Hilger
12 April 2010

Confusion, delays and allegations of fraud marked the start of Sudan's first multi-party elections in 24 years. The three-day election is a key indicator of whether Sudan can prevent a renewed conflict before the 2011 referendum that could bring independence to the south. The polls are the outcome of the 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war between north and south Sudan.

Sixteen million registered voters have until Tuesday to choose a national president, a leader of south Sudan, national and local parliaments, and governors of all but one of the country's 25 states. Voting has been hampered by delays getting ballots to polling places, ballot mix-ups and names missing from voters' lists. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has asked for the voting period to be extended to seven days in south Sudan, as many polling stations opened late and many voters, including senior officials, could not find their names on voter rolls.

The results are widely expected to keep Sudan's two most influential men in power: national President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Silva Kiir, who leads the largely autonomous south Sudan.

The openSecurity verdict: These elections mark a significant moment in the Sudanese peace process and are indicative of Sudan’s still fragile progress from a state of open war in both Darfur and South Sudan. The significance of the present vote however is somewhat overshadowed by the 2011 referendum, which could bring the dissolution of the unified state of Sudan.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has emphasised the importance of ‘peaceful and credible’ elections, stating that it "should contribute to the opening of political space in Sudan." Such an outcome is however far from assured, with Zach Vertin of the International Crisis Group warning of a possible "return to conflict in Sudan” if these elections "do not go according to plan."

The north-south civil war ended in 2005, with a power-sharing agreement between the SPLM and Bashir's National Congress Party party. Though Bashir has said he will accept the referendum, independence could lead to renewed conflict over the oil fields that straddle the north-south border. With most of the oil in the south, many analysts argue that “a split Sudan could negate sanctions to allow companies to prospect more easily in the South.”

The elections are particularly crucial for Bashir, who currently faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes committed in Darfur. Khartoum's implementation of Islamic law created divisions between the north and south of the oil-rich nation, resulting in a conflict in which the forces of the north have been accused of genocide. As James Copnall of the BBC has argued, Bashir needs a democratic mandate to sure-up his position after being indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. Such a vote would boost his credibility and demonstrate the support of his people for his past and future actions.

Additionally, the complexity of the elections could hinder its overall success. Some 750 international and 18,000 domestic observers are assessing the election, including former US President Jimmy Carter. Both observers and the official election committee will be paying close attention to delays and allegations of fraud. A number of candidates have withdrawn or boycotted the elections citing fraud and corruption, including a list of 100 alleged violations and errors. 

Voters, many of them casting their vote for the first time, face an exceedingly complex and confusing ballot: in the north, the polling process includes eight ballots; in the south, there are a dozen. To complicate the process further, the names of all the withdrawn candidates are still on the ballot papers. Though some will choose new candidates, others are choosing to vote for their original choices. As one voter outside Juba stated, "I am voting for SPLM's Yasir Arman for president of Sudan. Even if he has withdrawn, he is my candidate and I will vote for him." This could complicate official voting numbers as well as the validity of the voting outcome. 

Hope can be found in the fact that, for all its imperfections, the election has so far been not been accompanied by scenes of unrest or violence  and protests from opposition parties have not been violently expressed. 

Polish president and other elites killed in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others died on Saturday when their plane crashed while attempting to land in Russia. The president, his wife, and many of Poland’s military and political elite were travelling to Smolensk, Russia, to attend a memorial for the World War II Katyn forest massacre, in which 20,000 Poles were killed. The crash left no survivors and a joint Polish-Russia investigation has been launched.

Acting President Bronoslaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and the late president’s twin brother and former-Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski were present to receive Kaczynski's coffin at a military airport in Warsaw after its repatriation from Smolensk. The body was driven through crowd-lined streets to the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, where it will lie in state for one week. Komorowski has called for a week of mourning for the dead.

Poland’s presidential elections, originally scheduled for October of this year, will be moved forward. Kaczynski was already facing a strong challenge from Tusk’s Civic Platform party, which gained control of the government in 2007. Speculation about future Polish-Russian relations following the incident has included predictions of both improvement and deterioration in the two countries' historically troubled relationship.

Obama hosts ‘unprecedented’ nuclear summit

Starting today, American President Barack Obama will host 46 world leaders in a nuclear summit in Washington D.C. The summit is considered “an unprecedented effort to rally global action on securing vulnerable nuclear materials” and will focus on how to better safeguard weapons materials and keep them out of the hands of terrorists. Talks will aim to build a broader consensus on the imposition of sanctions on Iran.

"The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said on Sunday. “We know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and would have no compunction at using them." Of greatest concern are older nuclear weapons and materials, particularly in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, which may not be safeguarded as well as they should be. Obama's clarity is not echoed by the security studies community, however, which has remained divided on the likelihood of terrorist networks either procuring or using nuclear weapons

The summit comes just days after the US and Russia signed a major nuclear arms treaty. Among its other provisions, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) aims to reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by the US and Russia by one-third. 

Death toll rises to 21 in Bangkok protests

Hundreds of protesters forced their way into government offices in two northern cities this weekend, resulting in the deaths of seventeen civilians and four military personnel. An additional 870 were wounded in the fighting. Military and police forces used tear gas and rubber bullets in street battles with protestors armed with guns, grenades and petrol bombs in the worst violence seen in the country since political unrest in 1992.

Last week, authorities issued a state of emergency after the ‘red-shirts’ stormed the parliament compound on Wednesday. The state of emergency allows the military to break up gatherings and permits authorities to act, including arrest and search people, without court orders. Protestors are now refusing to negotiate with the government without dissolution of the lower house of parliament, increasing the prospect of further violence.

The ongoing protests have already had a negative impact on stocks and affected tourism. Some countries have raised travel warnings to Thailand to the highest level and many tourists in Bangkok for Thai New Year celebrations have fled the violence. 

Ousted Kyrgyz president defiant as interim leader takes office

In an interview from his family compound in the south of Kyrgyzstan, ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev told reporters he would not resign, insisting that he still retained popular support, and mocked the interim government. Bakiyev fled the capital last week after civilians clashed with the police and presidential guard in fighting that left more than 78 dead and some 1,600 wounded. Demonstrators were roused by Bakiyev’s ‘corrupt and repressive rule’ following weeks of discontent spurred by rising prices and allegations of corruption.

The leader of the new interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, said Bakiyev could be put on trial for responsibility for the deaths during the rebellion against him. The self-proclaimed government has also claimed Russia as its key ally, leading to concerns over the future of an important US military base in the country. However, Otunbayeva has vowed not to interrupt operations from the military base (used to supply troops and supplies to Afghanistan) and promised that her government would uphold Kyrgyzstan's international commitments.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the first leader to recognise the new government’s authority. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has also already been in contact with the new government regarding the future of the base and American operations in the country.

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