Logistical Challenges Facing Sudan Elections

[Juba, Southern Sudan  26ºC] The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by the Khartoum regime in the north and rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), based in the south of Sudan, is approaching a decisive and possibly its most difficult-to-implement phase so far: the April 2010 elections.

The National Election Commission (NEC) and United Nations (UN) kicked off the largest ever registration of voters in Sudan ahead of April elections, one year later than the what the CPA had proposed. Over 5,000 registration personnel throughout all of Sudan will be registering voters in over 700 election constituencies.

voter registration educational poster

voter registration educational poster

Sudan is Africa’s largest country, much of it being without existing infrastructure. The remoteness of the vast region is the biggest ever challenge in reaching out to potential voters. The semi-autonomous Southern Sudan is the geographic equivalent to the area of France.

Static Registration Centres are located in central locations with higher populations. They are supported by Mobile Teams that travel to remote areas of the South to register voters under the village tree and report back to the Static Centres. In a country where hardly anyone carries any identification papers, identification of potential voters can be difficult. According to NEC’s Election Law, an individual’s identity may be confirmed by three fellow villagers.

At the end of the process, registered voters will obtain a laminated slip of paper each with its its unique serial number. Proof of registration will help facilitate the work at the April 2010 elections polling stations. Only registered voters will be allowed to participate in the process of selecting government representatives of the Sudan in next year’s elections.

Logistical Challenges

Logistical challenges are enormous. Nearly 120,000 kgs of materials—including registration kits, forms and training supplies—are sent to initiate the November 1, 2009 registration period to locations identified by the National Elections Commission (NEC). The difficult operation needs all means of possible transport, including airplanes, helicopters, trucks, boats, motorbikes and pedestrian porters. Registration is particularly demanding but it is just an important warm-up for the challenges ahead with the April elections.

It is estimated that Sudan’s multi-level elections will require hundreds of millions of paper ballots, which are first printed then delivered to remote corners of a country the size of Western Europe. Each constituency requires three different ballot papers: one for political parties, another for the election of the guaranteed women representation and a third for each geographic constituency. For the entire country, the electoral process requires printing over 1200 different ballot papers for the election of all the legislative bodies. What renders this extremely difficult for providing each polling station with the material it needs to hold credible elections is the delivery of the appropriate ballots to each of the voting centers, and doing this on time.

This is considered our largest ever logistical operation. A voter education campaign, a voter registration process have just begun in a huge country with a complex political context. The April 2010 Sudan elections are first elections in 24 years, and four years after the end of a 21-year civil war.

Even without considering the complex and volatile political setting within which the Sudan elections are being held, the logistical challenges alone are collosal. Whether or not the challenges are to be met has yet to be seen.
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Maciej Nawrot works in Southern Sudan for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as a logistician in support to elections and democratic processes. He will be writing regular posts about the logistical challenges of organizing the April 2010 elections in Southern Sudan.

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