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Election material seized in Sudan, rebels claim

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir returns to Khartoum after Arab Summit last week
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir returns to Khartoum after Arab Summit last week Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Rebels say they have seized a lorry carrying ballot boxes for polling stations in the South Kordofan region of Sudan, triggering debate within opposition ranks on whether the upcoming presidential and legislative elections should be disrupted.


Vowing to stop the elections slated for 13 April, the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-North) reportedly captured an electoral commission vehicle at the weekend on the road linking Kadugli, the South Kordofan regional capital, to the town of Dilling.

SPLA-North says it seized up to 30 ballot boxes, and that images of the electoral material will be put online in coming days. "Our intention is clear," said Kamal Kambal, an official with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, the SPLA-North’s political wing. "Our intention is to stop the election in South Kordofan and we will be carrying out military operations in all the regions."

The Sudanese army told AFP, the French wire service, it was not aware of the incident. "They always deny," said Kambal. "We capture a certain number of vehicles from them. They say they’re not aware and then later on they acknowledge the loss."

The SPLM-North believes the elections are a mere ploy by Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress Party, to rig the elections in a bid to hang on to power.

Many other opposition groups agree. SPLM-North, political parties and civil society organisations signed in December Sudan Call, a political declaration urging voters to boycott the polls, described as a "façade intended to falsify the national will and legitimise the regime".

But some of the activists who signed Sudan Call in Addis Ababa disagree with the SPLA-North’s campaign to disrupt the campaign militarily.

Analysts like Berlin-based Roman Deckert of believe the alleged capture of ballot boxes is an SPLA-North "PR stunt" that may backfire politically.

"It brings them at odds with the civilian unarmed opposition, which has already denounced such a strategy," Deckert explained in a phone interview. "The relationship between the unarmed opposition in Khartoum and the armed opposition is already very weak. This move – if it has indeed taken place – will drive a wedge [between the two sides]."

One exiled rights activist, Namaa al-Mahdi, views military action against electoral commission staff with a baleful eye. "This kind of banditry from either side of the political landscape is unacceptable," she remarked. "It's an attack on civil servants merely carrying out their duties and it might not even achieve the attack's objectives in delaying the vote in South Kordofan."

The Sudan Congress Party, a Sudan Call signatory, takes the opposite view.

"It’s justified and legitimate to try to stop the elections in those places," said Khalid Omer Yousif, the head of SCP external affairs, in a phone interview from Khartoum. "It’s a war zone. [The security forces] are bombing villages at the same time as they are sending ballot boxes."

Dissensions within opposition ranks were already evident in Berlin when armed and unarmed groups signed the Berlin Declaration under the auspices of the German government in February. "It was very hard to get them together," observed analyst Deckert.

The fragmented opposition brings together rebels that are based in outlying areas (South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur) but do not have "any substantial popular following in central Sudan where most [ …] people live", Deckert explained.

In an RFI interview last month SPLM-North Secretary General Yasir Arman said
he was confident that the April elections would be widely boycotted. "You can imagine that after the genocide General Bashir has been committing against the Sudanese people what is the feeling of the Sudanese people," he said.

The polls, according to many observers, are nonetheless expected to extend the rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who first came to power in a military coup in 1989.

Violence has risen over the past month in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Since the beginning of March alone, fighting had displaced at least 20,000, the Khartoum government said last week.

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