, KHARTOUM, Apr 2 – Sudan\’s main opposition parties on Thursday announced a total boycott of presidential, legislative and regional elections, thwarting last-ditch US efforts to rescue the country\’s first multi-party polls in 24 years.
"The forces of national consensus have decided to reject and boycott the elections at all levels," the Umma Party\’s Mariam al-Mahdi told a news conference in the capital\’s twin city of Omdurman.
The grouping comprises the nationalist Umma, the communist party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), all of which earlier announced a boycott of the presidential election which looks set to return Omar al-Beshir to power.
Officials said each party would now hold an internal meeting to validate the boycott decision.
Their announcement followed efforts by US envoy Scott Gration to save the April 11-13 elections.
Thursday\’s developments came a day after Beshir\’s main challenger Yasser Arman, candidate for the southern Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), announced he was withdrawing from the presidential race.
Umma and the DUP came first and second respectively in the last multi-party election in 1986, three years before a 1989 military coup brought Beshir to power.
Three opposition parties, including that of Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, have not withdrawn from the elections.
Once a mentor to Beshir and now one of his fiercest critics, Turabi said he would still run.
"Our party will engage in the presidential (election)… at all levels," he said after meeting Gration.
Gration, who arrived on Wednesday, earlier met separately with Umma members, Turabi and DUP head Mohammed Osman al-Mirghani in marathon talks on the elections and the fate of the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan.
Arman\’s withdrawal on Wednesday ensured an election win for Beshir, Sudanese political analyst Haydar Ibrahim told AFP.
"By withdrawing his candidacy, Yasser Arman has assured Beshir a victory," Ibrahim said.
On Thursday, Arman said the presidential election was aimed at deflecting the International Criminal Court (ICC), which a year ago issued an arrest warrant for Beshir for alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
"The elections for president is made for one person, it is not made for a democratic process or for the Sudanese people, it was only made to save General Beshir from the ICC," Arman said.
His withdrawal came after Beshir ruled out deferring the election.
"I took the decision to withdraw for two reasons. Firstly, after having campaigned in Darfur, I realised that it was impossible to hold elections there due to the current state of emergency," Arman told AFP.
"Secondly, there are irregularities in the electoral process which is rigged."
Arman said, however, that the SPLM will field candidates in regional and legislative elections "across Sudan, except for Darfur."
"Beshir will be the only one. I don\’t think any other credible candidate will take the decision to run against him," he said.
Arman, 49, a secular Muslim from north Sudan, was selected in January by his former rebel group to challenge Beshir in the presidential election and was regarded as a leading candidate.
Fatima Abdelmahmud, the first ever female presidential candidate, has not decided her position yet.
Britain — Sudan\’s former colonial power — and Norway, a main provider of aid, joined the United States in expressing concern on Wednesday over the polls.
"We urge all parties in Sudan to work urgently to ensure that elections can proceed peacefully and credibly in April," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store said.
"We are deeply concerned by reports of continued administrative and logistical challenges, as well as restrictions on political freedoms."
Under a 2005 agreement that ended a 22-year north-south civil war, mostly Christian and animist southern Sudan obtained the right to hold a referendum in January 2011 on whether to break away from the Muslim-majority north.
Beshir has made it clear, however, that unless the SPLM participates in the elections, the referendum — which the southerners believe will deliver their independence — will not go ahead.