WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House charged on Tuesday that Sudan’s national elections were plagued by “serious irregularities” and said it was committed to helping ensure a 2011 referendum on southern Sudanese independence was conducted fairly.
Early results from the election, the oil-producing nation’s first in 24 years, suggest President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his party are headed for a strong win in presidential and parliamentary polls marred by boycotts and alleged fraud.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face charges of war crimes in the Darfur region.
Much of the opposition boycotted the proceedings before voting started, citing irregularities, and observers have already said the elections did not meet international standards.
“Political rights and freedoms were circumscribed throughout the electoral process, there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities,” the White House said in a statement.
“The United States regrets that Sudan’s National Elections Commission did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting,” it said.
Bashir had hoped an election victory would legitimize his government in defiance of the international arrest warrant. He denies the war crimes charges.
The U.S. State Department said on Monday Sudan’s elections were neither free nor fair but it would deal with the victors to try to settle internal disputes before a 2011 referendum that could bring independence to southern Sudan.
“The elections held recently in Sudan were an essential step in a process laid out by Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” the White House said, citing a deal designed to end a 22-year civil war between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in Sudan’s mostly Muslim north and the largely Christian and animist south.
That 2005 agreement gave the south autonomy, a share of oil revenues and a route to independence via referendum by January 2011.
“In the months and years ahead it will be critical to continue pressing for progress for the civil and political rights of all of the Sudanese people,” the White House said.
“The United States also remains committed to working with the international community ... ensure that the referendum happens on time and that its results are respected,”
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Paul Simao