Apr 14, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Day 2 of Sudan’s election

More great stuff from Deborah:

At breakfast this morning, we learned that former President Jimmy Carter would be arriving at the Juba International Airport in a few minutes. We drove over to meet him and attended a private press conference, which might have been aired on BBC by now. His remarks reflected the same observations that we’d seen or heard from others- that the logistical difficulties of holding this election resulted in some irregularities. He noted that the 24 year gap since the last election meant that poll workers needed to be trained from scratch, and emphasized the Carter Center’s long term presence in the country. Though I know the Carter Center has observers in South Sudan, we haven’t run into any from that delegation. So far we’ve seen observers from the EU, Arab League, African Union, IGAD, and the Government of Japan. There are also thousands of domestic observers who have been trained by NDI and the Carter Center. Domestic observers are stationary and we’ve seen them in every polling station. Most are very professional and forthcoming with information, though sometimes I got the impression that they were unwilling to speak out on any serious irregularities.

From the airport, we headed out to the polls, this time venturing further outside “central” Juba into some villages. The three polling centers we visited (in the same geographical constituency) had either never opened or opened just for a few hours, only to close again. The polling staff and domestic observers told us that they had the wrong ballot for the geographical constituency seat (a portion of National Assembly seats are elected from geographical regions) and they couldn’t let voters vote for a candidate from a different district. Though it wasn’t clear, it is possible that two entire constituencies were  swapped, which meant either that these two districts never opened or were voting for the wrong candidates. In another case, ballots were printed wrong so that a candidate, who is considered quite popular, was excluded from the ballot and was replaced by a candidate form a different geographical constituency. This polling station was also closed and was waiting for a response by the NEC on how to proceed.

None of the voters we spoke with considered these irregularities to be deliberate, but some of the voters we spoke with said that they wouldn’t consider the elections to be free and fair if they didn’t get to vote. Poll workers said that the election commission would be delivering the correct ballots sometime that day, but didn’t know what time. Most remarkable is that voters camped out at polling stations baking in the sun with children in tow without any water to vote for the first time. While some went home, these people waited in the heat- and believe me it was hot- to vote for the first time, rather than risk missing their opportunity to vote.  The level of frustration was certainly on the rise, but the scene remained calm, likely due to the professionalism of the poll workers and police.

We took a break from polling stations to meet with political parties and candidates to see how they thought the process was going, a luxury of having a 5 day election.  Politicians in South Sudan are quite accessible. We walked into the party headquarters of the SPLM and managed to meet with the campaign manager , who gave us a report of his views on the process. He cited some areas of concern, such as the late opening of polls. We also met with a major independent candidate for a gubernational race who had harsher criticisms. The polling stations we visited in the afternoon were quite orderly and professional, with just about 50% voter turnout for the one we visited for closing.

Towards the end of the day, we learned that polis would be open for an additional two days, through April 15. The greatest concern we’ve seen in the South is the lack of administrative capacity in running these elections, which could potentially open the door up to accusations of fraud. The poll workers were generally very professional, diligent, and helpful, so problem is larger than a matter of training. Most interlocutors did not immediately call the process a sham and voters tended to exercise a remarkable degree of patience. But as they wait longer and longer to vote, it’s likely that this patience will wear thin, which could change in subsequent days.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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