KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s main opposition parties have withdrawn from presidential elections, a senior member of one of the groups said on Thursday, a move that could wreck the looming vote and damage a faltering peace process.
At least five political parties, including the powerful opposition Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) also decided they would fully boycott all levels of elections, including gubernatorial and parliamentary polls, in protest at widespread fraud, three sources in the parties told Reuters.
“On the level of the candidates of the Presidency of the Republic, most of them (Sudan’s opposition groups) decided to withdraw,” said Mohamed Zaki, head of office for Sadeq al-Mahdi, leader of the opposition Umma party.
Zaki said only five independents and representatives of smaller parties were still in the race against incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in the oil-producing state.
He added there was still a chance the opposition candidates would review their decision if the government agreed to overhaul the country’s National Elections Commission, and responded to their complaints of irregularities.
Sudan’s presidential and legislative elections, due in less than two weeks, are central to the implementation of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
Thursday’s announcement came a day after south Sudan’s leading party, the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its candidate Yasir Arman from the presidential poll, protesting against electoral irregularities and insecurity in Sudan’s western Darfur region. He was seen as Bashir’s main contender.
The SPLM and opposition groups have demanded an investigation into how a government company won a tender to print voting papers and have made numerous complaints of fraud during voter registration and other preparations.
U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration flew into Khartoum after hearing about Arman’s withdrawal, his aides told Reuters, and spent Thursday holding crisis talks with government and opposition figures.
“We have concerns about the credibility of the election. We want to see it as inclusive and competitive as possible. Scott is there trying to help work here in the home stretch as we get ready for elections coming up,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.
The SPLM and opposition groups met late Thursday and agreed at least five parties including the DUP, Sudan’s Communists and the breakaway Umma Renewal and Reform party would boycott the whole elections, said party sources.
But the SPLM and Umma would consult with their membership on making a similar move, party officials said, meaning there was still no consensus amongst the opposition on what to do just 10 days before the polls.
The SPLM on Wednesday announced it would boycott elections only in the western Darfur region, the scene of a seven-year conflict.
Analysts said Arman’s withdrawal from the presidential race, effectively handed the presidential race to Bashir and could be part of a deal with Bashir’s northern National Congress Party to guarantee a January 2011 referendum on independence in the south, also promised under the peace deal.
But Arman denied any deal, telling Reuters there was no point in participating in the election, and that the NCP had already rigged it for Bashir to win.
People in South Sudan said they were disappointed the SPLM would not field a contender against Bashir, but that the independence vote was more important to them.
“This election is not going to be free and fair — the NCP is going to rig it, everyone knows this,” said doctor Victor Jal. “What is important for us is just the referendum.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum and Skye Wheeler in Juba; writing by Andrew Heavens; editing by Ralph Boulton