KHARTOUM, April 8 (Reuters) - Plans for Sudan’s elections are in tatters after the opposition Umma party joined other groups in withdrawing from the presidential, legislative and gubernatorial polls, saying they had been undermined by fraud.
The exit of Umma candidate Sadeq al-Mahdi, seen as one of the main challengers to incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, followed boycotts by South Sudan’s heavyweight Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Sudan’s Communists, and other smaller parties.
Here are profiles of the leading contenders still in the elections, which are due to start on Sunday.
OMAR HASSAN AL-BASHIR — NATIONAL CONGRESS PARTY
The withdrawals of Bashir’s two main rivals — Umma’s Sadeq al-Mahdi and the SPLM’s Yasir Arman — practically guarantee Sudan’s incumbent president a victory. But their boycotts will undermine the legitimacy of his likely win.
Analysts say Bashir was hoping to show he could come top in a competitive race to legitimise his rule in the face of an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes in Darfur.
Bashir was already the favourite, largely thanks to the domination of the army, the security services and state media by his National Congress Party — and the popularity of his defiant stance against the ICC and, implicitly, the West.
Bashir was an obscure army brigadier when he came to power in a bloodless coup in 1989 in an alliance with Islamists, deposing the country’s last elected civilian government.
In the early years of his rule, he oversaw Sudan’s transformation into a radical Islamic pariah state and provided a refuge for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal. In 2005, he brought his country closer to the international fold with a peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
That progress was overshadowed by a revolt in Darfur.
Bashir has promised to resolve the Darfur conflict through negotiations and to enhance relations with the south, even if it chooses secession in a 2011 referendum.
FATIMA ABDEL MAHMOUD - SUDANESE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST UNION PARTY
Fatima Abdel Mahmoud will make history in April’s elections as Sudan’s first female presidential candidate.
The country’s National Elections Commission initially rejected her nomination, surprising many commentators and sparking accusations of sexism from her supporters. A Sudanese court upheld her appeal and she was reinstated.
The 65-year-old paediatrician was also Sudan’s first female minister in 1973. Her small party wants equality for women and for Sudan to pass a law ensuring a percentage of profits from oil and other resources gets passed on to the Sudanese people.
She says women are the majority of the electorate and urges them to vote for candidates who want equal rights for women.
Abdel Mahmoud spent 10 years in parliament and says this election is a historic opportunity, as it guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to women.
ABDALLAH DENG NHIAL — POPULAR CONGRESS PARTY
When other parties started announcing boycotts last month, the Islamist Popular Congress Party made it clear it was determined to stay in the race.
Officials from other parties said they had agreed the PCP would compete to document the full extent of the election fraud.
Its candidate is a south Sudanese Muslim who was part of Bashir’s government before Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi lost a bitter leadership battle in 1999-2000 and split to form his own party.
PCP leader Turabi, who has spent years in jail or under house arrest since his rift with Bashir, said he wanted to show the PCP was a national party with no regard to race or ethnicity with the choice of Nhial to run for president.
From the largest southern Sudanese tribe, the Dinka, the 56-year-old is a relative of late SPLM leader John Garang.
Nhial hopes that as the first south Sudanese president — he is the only southern candidate — he will encourage southerners to vote for unity in a 2011 referendum on independence. He said his party would not enforce Islamic law in the south.
HATIM AL-SIR — DEMOCRATIC UNIONIST PARTY
Al-Sir returned to the presidential race on Tuesday, five days after his party said it was withdrawing, alongside other opposition groups. The leadership said they changed their minds following pressure from grass-root supporters.
The DUP held talks with the ruling NCP in the days up to its return and was always a peripheral member of loose opposition coalition protesting against irregularities. Some commentators earlier saw it as a possible NCP ally in the polls saying it could get ministerial seats following an NCP victory.
Al-Sir is a distant relative of the powerful al-Merghani family who lead the party. He grew up in the family home in Khartoum before leaving to follow the party’s religious leader Mohamed Osman al-Merghani into exile in 1989.
The Khatmiyya believe the al-Merghanis are descendents of the Prophet Mohammad. (For report please double click on [nLDE6372AG]) (Reporting by Andrew Heavens and Opheera McDoom; editing by David Stamp)