Fears of renewed violence after Bashir wins Sudanese election

South and North Sudan at risk of violence after election results contested. Niger food crisis worsens. Soldier killed in Thai protests. Sarkozy pushes for Chinese support of sanctions against Iran. All this and more in today's update.
Josephine Whitaker
29 April 2010

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the incumbent Sudanese president, has won re-election with 68 percent of the vote in Sudan’s first multiparty elections for almost 25 years. The election results were announced by the National Elections Commission on Monday, after almost a week’s delay due to logistical difficulties. In his victory speech, Bashir pledged to serve all Sudanese, and to bring resolution to the situation in Darfur.

The announcement follows widespread allegations of fraud and vote-rigging during the elections. Several parties boycotted all or part of the elections that took place 11-14April, and there have been accusations of fraud and intimidation since the voting concluded.

In the autonomous south, Salva Kiir, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, also won re-election as president with almost 93 percent of the vote. However, on Tuesday, nine south Sudanese opposition parties announced they would challenge the poll results in court, claiming they have documented evidence of intimidation. The challenge is being driven by Lam Akol, Kiir’s only challenger in the southern presidential poll. Kiir has expressed “total dismay” at the allegations of voter intimidation, and has accused Akol of being an agent of Bashir’s National Congress Party.


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The openSecurity verdict: With these long-awaited elections finally complete, the question now is, what next for Sudan? In the wake of April’s elections, among the most complex ever recorded, three key issues will determine the future of Sudan.

First, what will the many and varied accusations of electoral fraud, vote-rigging and intimidation lead to? As noted, several major opposition parties refused to even contest the elections, citing poll-rigging by Bashir’s National Congress Party. Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement withdrew from the parliamentary elections in most northern states, and their presidential candidate in the north, Yassir Arman, also withdrew shortly before polling began amid accusations of poll rigging. Observers have said the elections failed to meet international standards, noting in particular voter intimidation in the south carried out by the semi-autonomous southern army, but stopped short of saying the results should be considered invalid.

The fraud allegations are likely to undermine Bashir’s future legitimacy and credibility – something Bashir is counting on to help him withstand a pending arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. However, a more serious threat is anger amongst opposition parties, some of whom have already said they will not accept the results. Fears that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s political dominance would provoke violent opposition have already been confirmed by the deaths of two people in clashes in Unity State.

Despite these concerns, it is likely that the international community will continue to engage with Bashir. Stability is been given priority in the run up to a potentially more significant vote: the referendum on southern independence scheduled for January 2011. Recent polls indicate the south will overwhelmingly vote to secede from the north, but if preparations for referendum do not go smoothly, a return to war is likely.

The recent elections and the 2011 referendum were key tenets of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which brought an end to two decades of north-south civil war. However, there has already been much criticism by groups such as International Crisis Group of both the National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – the two main signatories to the agreement – for their slow implementation of the terms of this and other agreements. While the agreement aimed at ensuring peaceful unity in Sudan, the reality is that the National Congress Party has done everything it can to discourage political inclusion and has mad unity unacceptable to the south.

While Bashir, loathe to forfeit the south’s oil wealth, opposes southern secession, he has since given assurances that the plebisicite will go ahead as planned. However, as the International Crisis Group points out in a recent report, there a number of unresolved issues that must be addressed before the referendum can go ahead. If these issues are not resolved, or if the referendum date is pushed back, the south may decide to go ahead with secession anyway. This, according to analysts, will most likely lead to war.

The third issue is, of course, Darfur. Bashir’s supporters argue that his strong electoral performance in the region should dispel international accusations that Bashir perpetrated war crimes there by demonstrating the support he enjoys in Darfur.  Critics, however, fear that the electoral result might have a negative effect on the situation. Prior to the election, Bashir was conducting talks with rebel groups in Darfur – seen by many as a key step forward to resolving the problems that beset Darfur. However, some now fear that his electoral victory will encourage a move away from an engagement approach.

Whether Sudan can successfully address these three crucial issues will determine its fate: a peaceful, if rocky, transition to democracy; or a second descent into war?

Niger food crisis deepens

John Holmes, the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator, visited Niger earlier this week to gain a first hand impression of the escalating food crisis affecting the country. Holmes heard appeals for help from villagers, but said “we do not have a miracle solution… we’ll do our best.” Erratic rainfall and drought over the last year caused widespread crop failure and has devastated livestock numbers, leaving millions hungry. According to UN estimates, 7.8 million people are now facing serious food insecurity across Niger.

In March, the new government of Niger declared the country to be facing ‘critical food insecurity’ and called on the international community for help. The UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Niger, Khardiata Lo N’Diaye, launched an appeal in April to raise $190 million to meet the crisis. However, according to Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, less than one third of this has so far been raised. It is feared that the crisis could derail elections tentatively scheduled for the end of this year by the military rulers that ousted former president Mamadou Tandja in February.

The drought which has produced this latest food crisis, thought by experts to be worse than a similar crisis in 2005, has affected much of the ‘Sahel’ region, which encompasses parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, as well as Niger.

Protestors clash with army in Thai capital

One soldier was killed and nineteen were injured in violent skirmishes on Wednesday, as a tense political stand-off continues in the Thai capital. Security forces used live ammunition and rubber bullets in an attempt to prevent Red Shirt protestors, supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, from attending a rally north of Bangkok. The Thai government said today it would step-up efforts to contain this latest round of anti-government protest that has disrupted the country for weeks.

Protestors repeatedly charged razor wire barricades stretched across a national highway in the north of the city to prevent them from attending a rally there, hurled stones and launched fireworks at police and soldiers, local witnesses say. This allegedly provoked warning shots from the military. According to an army spokesman, the troops were authorised to use live ammunition in self-defence only. The dead soldier was apparently killed by a bullet to the head, although it is not clear who was responsible.

The confrontation came after the government warned protestors, who have been camped out in the city for the last seven weeks, not to try to escalate their protests outside the city. Yesterday’s events have done little to calm fears that the protests will end violently. Earlier this month, a government attempt to drive protestors out of Bangkok, where they are accused of damaging Thailand’s vital tourist industry, left 25 civilians dead and over 800 injured.

Sarkozy pushes for sanctions as Iran gears up for Non-Proliferation meeting

French President Nicolas Sarkozy stressed the importance of tougher measures to halt Iran’s nuclear programme during a three day visit to China. Sarkozy said that he understood China’s desire to engage Iran in debate, but emphasised that firmer action is necessary when dialogue does not produce results.

France, Britain and the US have been increasing pressure for a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran, which continues its nuclear programme despite past condemnation. However, China and Russia have been reluctant to support further sanctions against Iran, with whom they both have extensive trade ties.

Meanwhile, Iran and Egypt are reported to be preparing to argue the case for developing countries’ rights to nuclear technology at a forthcoming meeting on the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. The meeting, beginning on Monday and running until 28th May, is expected to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, taking a defiant stance against representatives of the US, France and Britain.

The last Non-Proliferation meeting, in 2005, was widely seen as a disaster, having done little to control the nuclear programmes of Iran or North Korea. Although diplomats hope that next month’s meeting will be more productive, in the context of on-going UN sanctions against Iran, such hopes may be in vain. Iran has maintained throughout sanctions negotiations that it merely wants nuclear technology to produce power to meet domestic needs

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