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Next year’s landmark elections pose major challenge for Sudan – UN official

Next year’s landmark elections pose major challenge for Sudan – UN official

SPLA soldiers parade through Juba in May 2009 for celebrations to mark the 26th anniversary of the start of Sudan's civil war
Local election authorities in the Sudan face a complex challenge in holding the conflict-ridden country’s first multi-party polls in decades, the top United Nations official tasked with assisting in the voting process warned today.

The April 2010 elections are a major milestone in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the pact which ended 20 years of fighting between the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) separatists in the south and the national Government in the north, said Ray Kennedy, Chief Electoral Affairs Office with the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

“UNMIS is here to support the process,” Mr. Kennedy told reporters in Khartoum, stressing that the “responsibility for planning, organizing, and conducting these elections rests with the Sudanese authority established for that purpose, namely the National Elections Commission [NEC].”

Highlighting the difficulties in organizing the elections, Mr. Kennedy said that the “size and physical landscape of the country, together with weak infrastructure in large parts of the county, would present a challenge for any election management body.”

He added that polling for six offices at the same time – President of the Republic, President of the Government of Southern Sudan, state governors, the National Assembly, the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, and State Assemblies – along with different elections taking place in different parts of the country is a complex task.

“And the time pressures that the NEC is under with the election law being passed two and a half years late and the establishment of the NEC itself taking far longer than envisioned in the CPA and in the National Elections Act” only adds to the complexities, said Mr. Kennedy.

“Together, all of these factors make these elections some of the most complex and challenging on record,” he stressed.

UNMIS has over 100 staff on the ground, with teams in Khartoum, El Fasher (capital of North Darfur), and each of the 10 states of Southern Sudan, noted Mr. Kennedy. He added that by late September, election support teams will also be established in each state in the north in response to the NEC’s request for support in all of Sudan’s 25 states.

The assistance UNMIS provides the NEC includes advice on procedures for voter registration, nominations, polling, counting, and the tabulation and announcement of results, as well as developing training on voter education, said Mr. Kennedy.

“Based on a request from NEC to assist them with logistics, the mission has asked for additional helicopters to help move registration materials, voter education materials, ballots, and ballot boxes around the country and we are awaiting approval of that request,” he said. “According to our calculations, we could be asked to assist with the transportation of 7.5 million kilogrammes of election material.”

A referendum on independence for Southern Sudan – where at least 2 million people were killed, 4 million others uprooted and 600,000 more fled across the borders during the 20 years of one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars – is slated for 2011, to follow next year’s national elections.