, KHARTOUM, Apr 3 – Sudan will hold its first general election in 24 years next February, an official said on Thursday, despite an international arrest warrant against incumbent President Omar al-Bashir.
"The electoral process starts this April and will finish in February 2010," Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, deputy head of the electoral commission, told AFP.
According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended Sudan’s decades-long civil war between north and south in 2005, the elections were due to take place this year.
Sudanese will elect a president, the head of the semi-autonomous south, the national assembly and the south Sudanese parliament and local governors.
Party officials welcomed the decision despite a lack of coordination.
"We are welcoming the decision and we respect the decision of the commission, but they did not negotiate with us the timetable," Ibrahim Gandur, a senior official of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) told AFP.
"There is enough time for transparent elections, and it can be monitored by (local monitors) and foreigners," he said.
The last general election, in April 1986, was won by the Umma party of Sadiq al-Mehdi, whose government was overthrown in a 1989 bloodless coup that brought Bashir to power.
Bashir clinched 87 percent of votes in a 2000 presidential election that was considered a farce by opposition parties.
According to a 2005 peace treaty and power sharing agreement between the Khartoum government and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement, elections were to have taken place this year.
South Sudan vice president and senior SPLM leader Riek Machar said he welcomed the election but hoped there would be no delay in a scheduled 2011 referendum on autonomy in the mostly Christian and animist south.
"The decision of the election committee gives all the parties time to prepare and time for the government of national unity to solve the Darfur crisis so that Darfur can participate," he told AFP.
"We hope the delay will not affect the referendum in south Sudan," he added.
Abdullah said demarcation of geographical constituencies would begin on April 15, six weeks later than planned because of delays in census results.
A national census last year is key to the organisation of elections and the subsequent structure of the country’s power sharing, but its results have still not been released.
Another critical obstacle to elections is security in Darfur, where millions displaced by six years of civil war in the western Sudanese region are unlikely to be able to reach ballot boxes.
The electoral campaign will start on November 30 and end on February 5, with polling taking place from February 6-21, Abdullah said, and results expected to be announced on February 27.
The ruling NCP said last week that Bashir, who is subject to an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes committed in Darfur, would be its candidate in the presidential election.
Bashir said in February, shortly before the ICC issued its arrest warrant that he wanted to hold "free" elections soon to guarantee stability in Sudan.
"I am looking forward to holding free elections in the near future and I ask all parties to prepare themselves for the next elections," he told opposition party leaders.
"There is no security and economic stability without political stability," he added.
Bashir has vowed not to cooperate with the ICC, which has accused him of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war-ravaged western region of Darfur.
According to the United Nations, 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in February 2003.
Sudan puts the death toll from the six-year conflict at only 10,000.