Sudan

Statement on Sudan's voter registration, Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2009

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This statement supplements The Carter Center's initial report on the voter registration process, issued Nov. 30. With the finalization of the National Elections Commission's (NEC) voter registration figures, the Center offers these observations in order to provide an impartial assessment of the process and to demonstrate support for Sudan's electoral process. With the end of registration, the focus now shifts to ensuring the accuracy of the voter rolls; protecting genuine expression of civil and political rights by individuals, associations, and political parties during the pre-electoral period; resolving outstanding technical and administrative issues related to elections implementation; and implementing necessary reform legislation to ensure an enabling political environment. Amidst tension between the political parties, the recent deterioration of respect for civil liberties, and a climate of rhetoric and violence, the Government of National Unity (GONU), Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), and all political parties must take steps to improve the political environment if genuine elections are to be held.

Voter registration began in most states on November 1, although there were significant delays in Western Equatoria and Jonglei. Millions of Sudanese participated in a voter registration process that was mostly peaceful and orderly. Electoral officials made efforts throughout the exercise to conduct an inclusive registration process. According to the NEC, 75.8 percent of eligible Sudanese were registered (15.7 million of the estimated 20.7 million electorate), close to the 80 percent NEC national target. However, citizen participation and engagement was uneven across Sudan's regions. The extension of voter registration by one week - requested by a number of political parties and agreed by the NEC - helped ensure that a greater number of registrants were able to participate.

Several states reported low rates of registration as of Nov. 30, and many citizens would have been disenfranchised if registration had ended on that date. However, if the NEC and many of the state elections committees had better publicized the extended locations and schedules of voter registration centers, the extension may have reached yet more eligible voters. With a one-week extension of registration, all states were able to register more than half of the estimated eligible voters. However, 13 states, including North Kordofan, Jonglei and the three states in Darfur, failed to reach the Commission's registration target of 80 percent of the estimated eligible voters. Given Sudan's historical imbalances and regional inequities, the uneven results are unfortunate, and suggest that insufficient voter education and logistical preparations undermined the implementation of registration in these states. Khartoum state, an area with great diversity, registered the lowest percentage. At the same time, despite gaps in civic education efforts, election officials reported extremely high rates of registration in Unity, Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states in Southern Sudan, and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in Northern Sudan.

At times, shortages in registration materials interrupted registration activities, particularly in the Southern Sudan states of Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, Eastern Equatoria, Upper Nile and Unity. While the NEC took action to replenish materials, avoidable operational interruptions complicated the registration process.

Overall, the Center commends electoral officials for successfully registering a relatively high level of eligible voters. This is a positive development in Sudan's electoral process. In order to build confidence in the voters' registry, the Center urges the NEC and the state elections committees to finalize the full preliminary voters' lists without delay, make it available to political parties and national and international observers for thorough examination and audit, and increase public information efforts to emphasize the importance of public review. By ensuring that Sudanese citizens enjoy the right to an effective remedy to problems with their registration, as obliged by Sudan's international commitments,i the NEC will be taking an important step to build confidence in the electoral process.