KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan began counting millions of ballots on Friday after five days of voting in the first open polls in 24 years, tainted by boycotts and accusations of fraud.
Despite decades of civil war and a heavily armed population the presidential and legislative voting witnessed no major armed violence, a step forward for the oil-producing country hoping to evolve into a democracy ahead of a referendum next year on independence for south Sudan.
With opposition parties and candidates boycotting much of the north, it is almost certain there will be no change of leadership in both north and south.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir — wanted by the International Criminal Court to face war crimes charges over Darfur — is likely to be confirmed as president of the republic and Salva Kiir should remain president of semi-autonomous south Sudan, given his party’s dominance there.
Many political analysts fear a newly elected NCP, freshly legitimised by the polls, may clamp down after the results.
The opposition groups that chose to boycott the elections say they will hold peaceful protests after the polls, but a senior member of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said that was not wise.
“At some time this right (to demonstrate) has to be granted fully to the people,” said Ghazi Salaheddin. “Not these days — the possibility of flare-up, clashes between demonstrators has to be borne in mind,” he added.
Not all Sudanese shared his optimism.
Tamam — an alliance of more than 100 Sudanese monitoring groups — said the vote was a farce.
“The process is a big farce — it’s fraudulent,” said al- Baqer Alaziz, a member of Tamam.
National parliamentary elections for 17 seats had to be delayed because of ballot errors or mix-ups at polling stations.
Sudanese monitors in the southern capital Juba also found fault with Kiir’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
“(There is) a troubling trend in Juba of observers being obstructed from carrying out their right to observe the electoral process,” the monitors said in a statement.
International observers will likely issue their reports this week. Sudanese opposition and civil society have accused the international community of ignoring widespread irregularities.
“The technocrats of the international community ... have chosen to turn a blind eye to all acts of corruption and the poor technical ability of the elections commission,” activist Hala al-Karib wrote on Friday on the Sudan Tribune web site.
“It shows that Sudan lies at the bottom of the international community’s priorities.”
Many of Bashir’s main rivals withdrew from the vote, saying the ruling party had rigged the polls with a disputed census and irregularities in the electoral register.
At one polling station in an affluent part of Khartoum, Bashir won 802 of the 953 votes cast. The runner-up there got just 31 votes. The boycotters got next to no votes, indicating that in this area, their call to supporters to avoid the polls was effective.
Bashir had hoped a victory would legitimise his government in defiance of the International Criminal Court arrest warrant, but the opposition boycott may deny him that credibility. Bashir, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1989, rejects the ICC’s allegations.
Editing by Giles Elgood