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An interview with Asha Elkarib

Asha Elkarib is a Sudanese social justice activist and member of Tamam – a network for Sudanese civil society groups and NGOs working for equality, justice and democracy in Sudan. Through her involvement in Tamam, she acted as an election monitor in the recent Sudanese general elections – a colossal political event, as they were the first in 24 years. She shares her thoughts and experience on the electoral process, the role of civil society and the future of Sudan with Pambazuka News.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What do you think happened in these elections? Was it a genuine outcome? Are the accusations of fraud and irregularities accurate? Are these legitimate concerns? What kind of irregularities took place? How have these affected the outcome?

ASHA ELKARIB: As an activist organisation and network for justice we were involved in the elections process with activities such as polling registration and mapping of constituencies. We followed this as closely as possible. We did not cover the whole country but only certain states, mainly Khartoum, Al Gezira, Kassala, White Nile, and parts of Darfur. We covered these areas for over a year: from census through to registration.

Based on our work, it is very clear that the election results were engineered in favour of the National Congress Party (NCP). Tamam is a network of over 3,000 local observers. We observed initial issues in registration and raised our concerns in three different reports sent to the national election commission before the elections took place. Our concerns were regarding fraud and the complete rigging of the election. The indicators were traceable in civil society, such as attempts of corruption, threatening of persons on group and individual levels.

In some rural areas entire villages were sworn on the Qu’ran to vote for the NCP. I happened to be there just after that. Many – such as schoolteachers, university lecturers and civil servants – were threatened with the loss of their jobs. Tactics such as intimidation through the use of religion and direct corruption (giving money to poor constituencies in exchange for votes) were also implemented.

In addition there was full-scale monopolisation of the media and use of state resources – cars, money for campaigning purposes. The media is 100 per cent controlled and the national electoral commission itself is not neutral. We are 100 per cent sure that these elections were not free or fair. Most polling stations were in schools. We have evidence of back doors being controlled to let the same people in to revote for the NCP. The ink used in voting was found to be removable – it washes away with water and soap and NCP supporters were hence able to re-vote, as the voting system does not require people’s names or IDs to be noted down on the ballot.

A final indicator is that Bashir got 68 per cent of the total vote. In the south he got 7 per cent while in the north he got 98 per cent at a parliamentary level. The NCP has no control in the south and this was evident in their lack of capacity to rig there, but the north shows a different picture.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Independently of the ‘mistakes’ that took place in the electoral process – is it a concern that a substantial portion of the Sudanese public voted for Bashir anyway? Is there not legitimacy nonetheless in the election results – considering a large number of people voted for Bashir anyway?

ASHA ELKARIB: It is true some people genuinely did vote for him, but not as many as the results indicate. A large part of the results in his favour are due to the reasons mentioned above. In any case this is now a de facto situation we have to deal with. One way is by not keeping silent and continuing to denounce it. We have already started working and analysing the situation – we want to base our position on critical analysis of the NCP, international actors and civil society. We have written a report outlining the most urgent issues. We have to have a plan of action from now until the referendum in January 2011. We are planning to use the action initiated by youth and women’s groups to challenge leadership and political parties. There is now a very clear demarcation between separatists and unionists. We want to go beyond that divide.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What were international monitors’ roles in this election (such as the Carter institute)? How did their presence/position influence the process? What are the wider international community’s interests in these elections?

ASHA ELKARIB: Due to their desire to see the referendum for Southern independence go through next year, the international community turned a blind eye to all the fundamental issues in this election and in doing so indirectly supported the NCP. Also, people stayed at home. There was no incidence of violence and there was very high presence of security forces. Khartoum was quiet, which indicated to the international community that Sudanese people were happy with this election – but they weren’t. The lack of violence is due to the fact that Sudanese people see no use in violence and because civil society had been advocating for non-violence long before the election started. Assuming that Sudanese people are content with the results is a very naive interpretation.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Have the opposition parties done a disservice to the democratic process in Sudan by boycotting the elections and allowing a landslide victory for Bashir or are they standing up for democracy in this sign of protest?

ASHA ELKARIB: The opposition parties were not consistent in what they were telling their constituencies. Up to the very last minute it was unclear whether they were going to go forth or boycott the election. Some partially withdrew – there was a lot of confusion. Sudanese people were ready to vote. This hesitation on the part of the opposition parties frustrated people.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What has this election achieved? Has it set a precedent for an attempt at democracy and accountability? Is that the bigger gain in the long term? Or will things simply resume to normal now that the NCP has been democratically elected?

ASHA ELKARIB: There is a democratic movement emerging from the civil society groups across the country, including women’s and youth groups and labour unions. This is one positive outcome of this election. If we have to live with this government for the next four years its ok – but it will have to deal with a much more organised opposition which is now concretising. We are going to hold them to account – freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly, of movement. This will be observed. On our part we will have strategic and organised thinking and action. It will be challenging but we are determined to learn from that process and to bring real democratisation in Sudan.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Is Bashir clinging to power because this is his last resort to not be indicted by the ICC?

ASHA ELKARIB: It was his driving force – his winning will protect him. He is using the power of the African Union and Arab League who are supporting him against the Sudanese people. He can’t do that forever. The ICC knows this. The ICC indictment was used as a political tactic to increase Bashir’s popularity. Darfur is closed off from the northern public – so they support what Bashir is saying without knowing what is really going on. The media is continuously manipulated and Sudanese civil society is barred form the area.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What will happen to the South? Do you think the NCP will follow through with the referendum in for the south in 2011?

ASHA ELKARIB: The referendum will affect our current and future political situation and the mobilisation of an independent civil society driven opposition group that we are trying to achieve. If the south separates or not, it will be a long and painful process – so many issues will have to be addressed such as Abyei, the borders, the Blue Nile, southerners in the north, northerners in the south and a central bank. It will not be easy. Other issues will follow the referendum. These are the new realities we have to think of. We have to address some serious issues otherwise the violence that did not happen during the elections will happen in the referendum. We are already mobilising in anticipation.


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