Bashir Says Sudan Elections to Occur on Schedule, Rejecting Calls to Delay

Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir today said Sudan's first elections in 24 years will be held as planned on April 11-13, rejecting opposition calls for a postponement.

"Ahead of us, the days are numbered," Bashir told a campaign rally in Kassala, in eastern Sudan in a speech broadcast by Sudan's Blue Nile television channel. "There is no postponement, there is no delay and there is no cancellation."

Bashir spoke a day after the opposition Umma Party said U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration would try to persuade the Sudanese government to delay the vote. The party said it would boycott the elections April 6 if voting isn't moved back by four weeks.

Sarah Nugdallah, head of Umma's political bureau, said yesterday Gration "will try to achieve this delay" and that Gration asked the party to participate in the elections. Gration today said he was reassured by the National Elections Commission that the vote will be held on time and will be free and fair.

"These people have gone to great lengths to ensure that the people of Sudan will have access to polling places and that the procedures and processes will ensure transparency," Gration told reporters in Khartoum.

The Umma Party issued seven other demands that include a freeze on "oppressive security laws" and putting state media under a neutral authority, which it said are conditions for the party's participation in the elections.

"If these demands are not agreed on by Tuesday, April 6, then the Umma Party will boycott the rest of the elections and announce it will not recognize its results," Nugdallah said. In the meantime, "Umma Party will resume its election campaign on all levels."

Last Election

Umma leader Sadig al-Mahdi was Sudan's last elected leader in a multiparty vote.

The vote for the presidency, parliament and state governorships will take place five years after a peace agreement ended a two-decade long war that killed as many as 2 million people between the Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional religion dominate.

The opposition parties have accused the National Elections Commission of being biased in favor Bashir's National Congress Party. They also say the NCP has monopolized the media, intimidated opponents, used state resources for its campaign, and manipulated a census. The NCP rejected the charges, and accused the parties of political bankruptcy.

"We are telling political parties, now it's the time to be serious, and the time we hand this matter to the Sudanese people," Bashir said today. "And everyone who claims that the Sudanese people are with them, the ballot box will decide between us and them."

War Crimes

Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since coming to power in a military coup in 1989, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges he was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which came in second after Umma Party in the 1986 elections, has only withdrawn its presidential candidate and will continue to participate in parliamentary and regional elections, Salah el-Basha, the DUP's Secretary of Information said yesterday.

Islamist Popular Congress Party leader Hassan al-Turabi, who helped Bashir seize power in a 1989 coup, said April 1 that his party would participate in the election.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which governs the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan, announced on March 31 it was withdrawing its presidential candidate from the vote and boycotting the polls in the western region of Darfur. It will contest the election in the rest of the country.

Southern Sudan is scheduled to vote in a referendum in January to decide whether to secede from the rest of Sudan.

"We're troubled by any decision that reduces the competitiveness and credibility of these elections, but the situation is very fluid," State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in a briefing in Washington April 1 after the announcement that presidential opponents were withdrawing.

Sudan produces 480,000 barrels of oil per day and ranks as sub-Saharan Africa's third-biggest crude producer, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Most of the oil is pumped in the south.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maram Mazen in Khartoum via Cairo at mmazen@bloomberg.net.

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