June 11, 2009 / 1:52 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan may delay Feb elections again

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Parliamentary and presidential elections, Sudan’s first democratic national vote in more than 20 years, could face a fresh delay after already being pushed back to February next year, a senior Sudanese official said.

The elections are a key part of a fragile 2005 peace deal that ended more than 20 years of north-south fighting with a promise of democracy. The voting was originally scheduled for July, before a referendum on southern independence in 2011.

The deputy chairman of the National Elections Commission, Abdullah Ahmed Abdulla, told Reuters the commission was behind schedule because of delays in announcing results of a vital census and in setting up election committees in states.

“We are considering a modification, an adjustment of our old timeframe to accommodate the delays that have taken place,” Abdulla said on Tuesday, adding it would “not be very much of a delay”.

Abdulla did not suggest any new timeframe but said voter registration — originally set for June — would now likely start in November after disruptive rains have finished.

“Some of the intervals and the stages are dictated by law so you cannot accelerate the stages,” he added.

The north-south deal gave the south a semi-autonomous government, headed by the former rebel party, shares in oil wealth as well as cabinet and parliamentary seats in the national government.

When the north-south deal was reached in 2005, the United States, Kenya and other brokers behind the deal saw fair elections as a way to encourage southerners to back unity.

BOUNDARIES

A major cause of tension between north and south since the accord has been persistent delays in the demarcation of a contentious north-south border that runs through key oil fields.

Abdalla said delineating the border on paper could be done by September and on-the-ground demarcation by December.

Analysts have voiced concerns about the complexity of the choice facing voters in Africa’s largest country that has a population of 39 million.

Alongside voting for a president and parliament, voters will choose a south Sudanese president, state governors, a southern parliament and state assemblies.

Southern politicians have already criticized results of a census, details of which were announced in May, saying that the figure for the number of southerners was too low.

Despite criticisms, Abdulla said the commission would continue the process of outlining constituencies because it was legally bound to do so.

Although delayed, he said election committees at state level and one for south Sudan had now been formed.

Analysts say registration will also be a challenge as many Sudanese especially in the south have no identification papers.

Voters may be identified by tribal chiefs, Abdulla said, adding the commission had decided to train observers from political parties to monitor this process.

The north-south war, separate from the six-year-long conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region, killed some 2 million people and displaced another 4 million from their homes, mostly in the south. Many have since returned.

The commission has not decided whether Sudanese refugees abroad will be allowed to vote and, if so, how, Abdulla said.

Reporting by Skye Wheeler, Editing by Edmund Blair

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