The General Secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches - an Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic grouping - has said that current national elections in Africa's biggest country do not qualify as free and fair - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
The Rev Ramadan Chan Liol, said, however, that the elections should continue since they are a key step in the implementation of the country's Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The 2005 accord was signed in Nairobi between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, ending 21 years of civil war, fought mainly in the south.
The poll, which started on 11 April 2010, has been labelled as the first multi-party elections in Sudan since 1986. In the Islamic-majority north, however, only small opposition parties are running against President Omar al-Bashir and his party.
"The view of the Church is that the whole exercise is one that cannot be described as free and fair," Chan, a Baptist, told Ecumenical News International in a telephone interview from Khartoum on 14 April. "There are too many challenges. Peoples' names are missing from the registers. They are scattered in different rolls in different towns."
He spoke as the elections entered their fourth day. The polling began facing complaints of delays, confusion over names and symbols, as well as the withdrawal of some candidates. Voting ends on 15 April after a two-day extension by the National Election Commission.
Churches had mobilised people to vote in the presidential, legislative and local elections, according to Chan, but some voters said they were frustrated by boycotts and withdrawals.
The SPLM withdrew its presidential candidate Yasir Arman from the poll, while the Umma Party and Popular Congress Party from the north also said they are boycotting the election.
"The boycott has brought down the morale among the people. They are no longer excited about the elections," said Chan.
Chan was asked if the situation may be repeated in a scheduled 2011 referendum to determine whether the south will remain united with the rest of the country or it will become independent. He said, "That will be a different scenario from the elections where people will chose yes or no."
As he cast his vote on 12 April, Catholic Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro of Juba told journalists, "This preparation for the people of southern Sudan for the referendum next year." BBC television later quoted as the archbishop as saying in Juba. "If the people chose to secede… they must go."
Many church leaders in southern Sudan support the independence of the region saying it can help the mineral-rich region where Christianity and African traditional religions predominate.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]