CONFLICT in Darfur and the slow return of millions displaced by civil war may delay beyond 2009 Sudanâ€™s first free election in more than two decades, the countryâ€™s last democratically elected leader said.
Sadig al-Mahdi, the prime minister deposed in 1989 by President Omar Hassan al-Bashirâ€™s military coup, added problems in drawing the north-south border could also derail the vote. The disputed region is where much of Sudanâ€™s oil is located.
“These are going to be the only problems that may not allow elections to take place in time,” he told Reuters.
Mahdiâ€™s Umma party is generally considered to have one of the largest support bases in the country after winning the last democratic elections in 1986.
He said his party was open to an electoral alliance with any party ready to follow their “middle ground” between the Islamist policies of the National Congress Party and what he called the Africanist, secular programme of the former southern rebel Sudan Peopleâ€™s Liberation Movement, who both dominate government.
“We are prepared to ally with whoever is interested in this broad renewed Sudan,” he said in an interview, adding the party convention before the end of the year would settle the issue.
“We are culturally closer to the NCP and politically closer to the SPLM,” he added.
Mahdi said three major problems could delay free elections, due to take place next year according to a north-south peace deal which ended Africaâ€™s longest civil war.
During multiple civil wars and years of political oppression millions fled their homes in Sudan and Mahdi said they should return to ensure representative elections.
Violence in Sudanâ€™s western Darfur is unlikely to be resolved ahead of the vote next year, meaning millions may not participate.
And he said the lack of a north-south border, vital for a 2011 referendum for the south to vote on secession, was also an obstacle. This would create problems forming constituencies.
The NCP has said the election will be held on schedule.
Mahdi was optimistic that elections, whenever they are held, would be as fair as possible because the NCP could no longer return to the “totalitarian” system they employed in the 1990s given the number of political forces now in play.
“The NCP knows it is in a cul de sac and needs a way out,” he said. “A way out cannot be through fake elections…fake elections are really a red flag for uprisings.”
On Darfur, the Umma Partyâ€™s traditional support base, he said the major obstacle to end the five-year-old war was the intervention of foreign powers, including neighbouring Chad.
“We have to have a settlement on terms that no one can reject,” he said, adding this must meet what he called the legitimate demands of the Darfuris.
“(Then) we should hold quickly and under UN auspices a regional security conference between Sudan and its neighbours to agree on a policy of non-interference.”
Darfurâ€™s conflict has been described by Washington as genocide, a term Khartoum rejects.
It has attracted unprecedented international attention in the
past four years with the worldâ€™s largest UN-funded peacekeeping operation deploying in the region. â€” Reuters.