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Election Intimidation and Delusions in Darfur

In scanning the news on Sudan early this morning, I came across a short item on Radio Dabanga's website "Two opposition politicians arrested in Nyala" about a government security raid on the local headquarters of two national political parties. As I wrote in an article at The New Republic today, this type of incident has been fairly commonplace during the two-month election period in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan.

And then I realized that I had actually met one of those detained, Dr. Nour Al Sadiq. She is currently an appointed member of National Parliament representing the Communist Party. Along with her party, she chose not to contest the elections in Darfur. In a few days, therefore, she will lose her seat -- and, as these arrests may signal, her limited protection from harassment by the Sudanese regime.

To check up on Dr. Nour -- who in addition to her parliamentary responsibilities works with women in internally displaced camps -- I called Salih Mahmoud Osman. Also from Darfur, he serves with Nour in the Parliament as one of two other appointed members from the Communist Party. Salih has received many awards for his legal and human rights advocacy since the beginning of the crisis in Darfur, and for these efforts endured a prolonged period of detention in 2004.

From Khartoum, Salih confirmed the arrests and that the security agents stormed their office in Nyala yesterday and seized documents and computers. It seems that the authorities targeted her and the other leader, Abdul Rahman Ahmed Hassan of the Umma Party for Reform and Renewal, for signing a statement with others this week urging Darfuris to not participate in the elections. Fortunately after four hours, Nour was released, but only after repeated threats and intimidation to stop these activities.

In our conversation, Salih expressed his profound frustration with current US policy toward Sudan. He said, "People are really really sad and they are asking themselves why President Obama and his administration have set such low standards for the elections." When I asked him about the US Special Envoy's last minute efforts to salvage the elections after a number of parties announced their boycotts, Salih brushed them aside saying, "He has lost the respect of most individuals in Sudan - except for maybe the National Congress Party [Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir's ruling party]."

Salih, Nour and others right now fear what will come after the elections. In the week before the polls open, they have heard rhetoric from NCP leaders like Nafie Ali Nafie that begin to reveal the regime's plans for a new painful chapter in Darfur and Sudan. At a rally this week, Nafie declared that overall participation of Darfuris in the election process will be high, and stated (article in Arabic):

"Darfuris will vote for the NCP to express their special relationship to the Salvation [the name for the Revolution of Salvation that seized power via military coup in 1989]," adding that Darfuris have sent clear signals to those trying to target the project of Sudan and the Salvation.

Nafie also promised the crowd that "Darfur will find salvation after an NCP victory."

Perhaps what Nafie means by 'salvation' is what the International Crisis Group just predicted for post-election Darfur:

[T]he consequences for Darfur are catastrophic. Disenfranchising large numbers of people will only further marginalize them. Since the vote will impose illegitimate officials through rigged polls, they will be left with little or no hope of a peaceful change in the status quo, and many can be expected to look to rebel groups to fight and win back their lost rights and lands.

In addition, the report notes how "[w]inning big is...central to the NCP's hopes of capturing enough votes in northern Sudan to ensure its continued national dominance." It documents the numerous ways the NCP has cooked the books to achieve this objective.

The delusions of Nafie and the harassment yesterday of Nour and Abdul Rahman paint a bleak picture for Darfur and the rest of Sudan after the elections. It is clear that despite all of their protestations to the contrary the NCP and the Bashir regime have not changed. It is therefore vital that President Obama see these elections for what they really are: just a new device to maintain control across Sudan and avoid real peacemaking in Darfur.

Cross posted on the Save Darfur Coalition's blog.