April 12, 2010 in Nation/World

Sudanese hold contested vote

Opposition parties boycott, plea for delay is ignored
Mohamed Osman And Jason Straziuso Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Southern Sudanese citizens line up to vote at a polling station in Juba, southern Sudan, on Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese voted Sunday in the impoverished country’s first multiparty elections in a quarter century, which will determine whether President Omar al-Bashir wins another term despite his indictment on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

The vote is supposed to bring a democratically elected government, prepare the ground for a vital referendum on South Sudan independence and begin healing the wounds of the Darfur conflict. But major opposition parties boycotted it, claiming it was unfair.

In addition to the president, the country was electing a national parliament, local governors and parliaments and the president of the semiautonomous government of South Sudan.

The elections, which run through Tuesday, are supposed to be an essential step in a 2005 peace plan that ended two decades of civil war between the mostly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south. The conflict claimed some 2 million lives.

Sudanese hoped the election would begin a process of healing in a country ripped apart by that war and the separate, seven-year conflict in the western Darfur region, which left an estimated 300,000 people dead and millions displaced since 2003.

Al-Bashir is expected to win easily after two major parties, including the southerners, decided to pull out fully or partially.

The opposition accused the National Election Commission of bias in favor of the government. They also accused the ruling party of using state resources in the campaign and said the number of polling stations nationwide was cut in half from 20,000, making it harder for those in remote villages to vote. They called for a delay, but the government went ahead anyway.

“This is the first time that the party that carried out a coup organizes elections,” said Sarah Nugdallah, the head of the political bureau of the Umma party, a major northern opposition group that is boycotting. Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup.

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