Skip to main content

Chaotic scenes in historic Sudan election

By David McKenzie, CNN
A South Sudanese woman casts her ballot on Sunday.
A South Sudanese woman casts her ballot on Sunday.
  • Some voters complain of names not on voting lists, polling places opening late
  • 3-day election comes amid calls for boycott, charges of fraud against ruling party
  • Elections are the first involving the whole of Sudan in over two decades
  • Main party in south asks for four-day extension

Khartoum, Sudan (CNN) -- As Sudan began its second day of voting on Monday in an historic election, problems in the vote emerged in some areas.

Widespread confusion prevailed at polling stations in the Southern capital of Juba.

Voters could not find their names on the registry at several polling stations, while many couldn't understand the complicated 12 levels of voting in the forms and were confused by the lack of presidential pictures to identify candidates.

Election commissioners had predicted roughly three minutes for each voter, but some took almost thirty minutes to cast their ballots.

"People cannot find their names on the boards," said Dr. Cirono Hiteng, undersecretary for the presidential affairs ministry. "People are moving from one place to another."

Citing the delays, the main party in the South, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, has asked for a four-day extension for the vote.

The SPLM recently withdrew its presidential candidate from the race against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and opposition parties called for a boycott of this week's vote amid accusations of fraud against the ruling National Congress Party.

Al-Bashir has denied the allegations, prompting some parties to withdraw partially or fully from the election.

Despite the hiccups, people voted peacefully in Southern Sudan on Sunday.

"This is their first experience of democracy," said Zach Vertin of the International Crisis Group. "People are excited to learn about the process and, particularly in the South, to vote for many of their candidates here."

Video: So much at stake in Sudan elections
Video: Leader on arms in Southern Sudan
If a peaceful resolution isn't found, then I think it is very possible that we will see a return to conflict in Sudan.
--Zach Vertin, International Crisis group
  • Sudan
  • Southern Sudan
  • Darfur

Sudan's vote faces massive logistical challenges.

Southern Sudan is the size of France but has less than 50 miles of paved roads.

In Jonglei State, ballot boxes had to be flown out in U.N. helicopters to reach polling stations in time.

In the North, the vote was also largely free of major incident.

But many polling stations in the capital, Khartoum, opened hours after the scheduled start because of problems with the voting materials.

Election officials in Khartoum said they were satisfied with the progress of the voting.

Up to 750 international and 18,000 domestic observers are monitoring the election.

One of them is former former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who said Sunday that monitors had received "varying reports" of problems at polling stations around the country's capital.

European Union monitors on the ground said it was too early to tell whether the vote will be free and fair.

The vote, which continues through Tuesday, is the first multiparty election in 24 years.

The ballot is taking place in accordance with a 2005 peace agreement that ended a decades-old conflict between Sudan's north and south. The peace agreement left them as separate territories, with a January 2011 referendum scheduled to decide whether they will reunite or sever their remaining ties.

The decades of conflict between the north and the south left more than 2 million people dead and pitted Christian and Animist southerners against Muslim northerners.

The peace deal, which mandated the election and the 2011 referendum, was instrumental in ending the conflict.

The other conflict in the western Darfur region, which gained more international media coverage, was a different war. It was between government militias and ethnic rebels. This conflict is regarded as genocide by the U.S. government and resulted in war crimes charges against al-Bashir, who took power in a 1989 military coup.

Al-Bashir's implementation of Islamic law created divisions between the north and south of the oil-rich nation. Analysts have said that since most of the oil is in the south, a split Sudan could negate sanctions to allow companies to prospect more easily in the South.