Sudan ruling party reaches out to opposition

April 15, 2010 12:00 am

, KHARTOUM, Apr 15 – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir\’s party reached out to the opposition on Wednesday in a bid to save the credibility of a landmark vote boycotted by its key challengers.

The National Congress Party said it wanted to include opposition groups in a future government, should it win Sudan\’s first competitive elections in two decades that are due to end on Thursday.

Presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddin said that, "given the challenges facing the nation," the NCP was interested in "our government being as inclusive as possible."

"If we are declared winners … we would extend the invitation to all parties, even those who have not participated in the elections, because we believe this is a critical moment in our history," Salaheddin told reporters.

The credibility of the election had been dented by a boycott of the opposition including by the heavyweight Umma party which won the 1986 elections.

The southern former rebel Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), a partner in the national unity government, also boycotted the vote in parts of the country and withdrew its presidential candidate.

Asked if he believed the political groups boycotting the vote would be willing to join the NCP in a government, Salaheddin said he thought it would be "in their interest."

"If the elections are recognised by international players and international institutions, that would mean that the government is recognised," Salaheddin said.

"If they decide not to join the government, not to heed the offer, they would be isolating themselves from the process.

"I think any politician in his right mind would not decline such an offer," he said.

The opposition boycott was announced after ballot papers were printed, leaving open the possibility for individual candidates to stand anyway and win in their constituencies despite their party\’s decision to pull out.

The election, Sudan\’s first multi-party vote since 1986, is a prelude to a 2011 referendum on southern independence.

"We are facing an important decision like self-determination in the south and we would like to garner as much support and as much consensus as we can," Salaheddin said.

Salaheddin accused the International Crisis Group, which said in a March report that the NCP was rigging the election, of being "politicised" and the Brussels-based think tank would not be allowed to do research in the country.

Around 16 million Sudanese are registered for this week\’s elections, but the process was losing steam by the fourth day of voting on Wednesday, with many polling stations empty, AFP reporters said.

The government put the turnout over the first three days at between 40 percent and 67 percent based on preliminary reports.

The African Union on Wednesday praised the conduct of the polling, pointing out that "the organisation of elections in Africa is a difficult process. Sudan is no exception," AU Commission President Jean Ping said.

The election had kicked off on Sunday to a chaotic start with delays in distributing ballot papers, polling stations opening late or not at all, names missing or mispelled on registration lists.

With the withdrawal of key presidential candidates, Bashir – who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in the western region of Darfur – looks set for a comfortable win.

But parliamentary and state elections are still fiercely competitive in many parts of the country, leaving Sudanese anxious about potential tensions or even clashes in the more contested areas.

Election results are not expected before April 20.

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