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voting begins in Sudan’s historic elections
KHARTOUM, APR 11 (Agencies):
Published on 12 Apr. 2010 1:01 AM IST
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Voters in Sudan are casting their ballots in the first multi-party elections in 24 years.
The polls for president, parliament and state assemblies are being held as part of the peace deal that ended the civil war between north and south Sudan.
But several key parties and politicians opposed to President Omar al-Bashir are boycotting the vote amid fraud fears. For many in Southern Sudan, these elections are a prelude to a referendum next January on possible independence.
The elections are also complicated by the ongoing low-level civil war in Darfur, where some three million people are living in refugee camps. The BBC’s Mohamed Khalid, in the Darfur city of Fasher, says the turnout is surprisingly high, amid tight security.
“We want the election to bring change and peace and to help us go back home,” Adam Isa, a middle-aged man, told the BBC at the al-Salam refugee camp.
The 16 million registered voters have until Tuesday to vote but some turned up on Sunday before polls opened to make sure they could cast their ballots.
The elections are meant to be a significant moment for Sudan, marking the transformation from a military and Islamist government to a democratic one, but the election has been marred by the number of withdrawals.
Local election monitors in Khartoum are reporting that some election officials are going into polling booths with voters and instructing them to vote for President Bashir.
The National Elections Commission had insisted that the three days of voting would be free and fair.
But this failed to convince the parties opposed to President Bashir, who pulled out in protest at alleged plans to rig the vote.
President Bashir needs a democratic mandate since being indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur, says the BBC’s James Copnall in Khartoum.
The boycott by his two main challengers mean he is favourite to be re-elected but is likely to reduce that mandate, our correspondent says.
Mr Bashir voted in Khartoum, wearing a traditional white robe and turban. He then raised his index finger to show the voting ink, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), reports the AFP news agency.
The polls are extremely complicated - all the more so because the names of those who have withdrawn over the past two weeks are still on the ballot papers.
“I am voting for SPLM’s Yasir Arman for president of Sudan,” Elijah Garang told the BBC at a cattle camp outside Juba. “Even if he has withdrawn, he is my candidate and I will vote for him.”
The elections are also a huge logistical challenge for a country where where the infrastructure is poor.
In Southern Sudan, which already has considerable autonomy, 12 separate elections are taking place - for regional representatives, as well as local and national ones.
Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir had to take a seat and wait for half an hour while the cardboard voting booths were set up at a polling station in central Juba. Under the gaze of international observers, Mr Kiir spent 20 minutes casting his votes.
He put one of his ballot papers in the wrong box, Reuters news agency reports.
“I have voted and there was no problem. I’ve never voted in my life. I hope it will be the formation for a democratic process in south Sudan,” he said.
Many there are already looking beyond these elections to next January’s referendum, when southerners will vote on possible independence.
The north-south civil war ended in 2005, with a deal for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to share power with Mr Bashir’s National Congress Party nationally, while run affairs in the south on its own.
President Bashir has said he will accept the referendum result, even if it favours independence for the south.
However, the country’s oil fields lie along the north-south border and some fear that an independence bid could lead to renewed conflict.

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