, KHARTOUM, Apr 13 – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, wanted for alleged war crimes, is expected to extend his rule in elections starting Monday, boycotted by the mainstream opposition and already facing international criticism.
With 15 little-known candidates running against him, 71-year-old Bashir faces no real competition in the second contested vote since he seized power in 1989.
Sudanese will also vote for national and state lawmakers in the three-day election, with Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) expected to dominate.
Preparations were underway at polling stations in the capital, but many on the streets of Khartoum were unmoved by the vote.
“Everyone knows the result of this election,” said Mutawakil Babikir, a 43-year-old shopkeeper.
Taxi driver Mohammed Saad al-Din said he would cast his ballot for Bashir but would not bother with the legislative election.
“I will vote for Bashir because bringing him back to power will bring peace,” the 65-year-old said.
Bashir toppled Sudan’s democratically elected government in an Islamist-backed coup and is Sudan’s longest-serving leader since independence.
He won 2010 presidential elections that were marred by an opposition boycott and criticised for failing to meet international standards.
Under his rule Sudan’s economy has faltered, suffering badly from South Sudan’s 2011 secession, which saw it lose nearly three quarters of its oil resources.
Conflict has also plagued the South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas since 2011, and Darfur since 2003.
Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, and for genocide the following year.
Some 300,000 people have been killed in fighting in the western region, the United Nations says.
Rebels have said they will disrupt elections across the three war-torn areas.
Officials say voting will not take place in one district in Darfur and seven in South Kordofan, but will go ahead uninterrupted in 7,100 polling stations nationwide.
– No ‘credible’ result –
The European Union has already said the elections cannot produce a “credible” result because Bashir’s NCP snubbed a meeting with the opposition to organise a national dialogue last month.
Norway, the United States and Britain also warned “an environment conducive to participatory and credible elections does not exist”.
Khartoum released two top political detainees on Thursday, a move their lawyer said was aimed at easing international pressure before the vote.
Amin Makki Madani and Farouk Abu Issa were arrested in December for signing an agreement aimed at uniting opposition to Bashir.
Rights groups have also accused security services of stifling dissent in the run-up to the voting.
Police in the eastern coastal city of Port Sudan broke up a small student demonstration against the elections on Sunday, witnesses said, and residents at the Kalma IDP camp in South Darfur also held a peaceful protest against the vote at the headquarters of the peacekeepers who provide their security.
The government has dismissed such criticism, with presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour saying the elections are “historic”.
Forty-four parties are standing for the state and national parliaments in the country of nearly 38 million people, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said.
Voting starts at 0500 GMT and closes 10 hours later over the three days of the election, which will be monitored by 15 international organisations, including the Arab League, the African Union and east African regional bloc IGAD, according to the NEC.
The presidential elections could theoretically go to a second round if no candidate wins a majority, and the results are expected in late April.