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Voting for Change: Elections and Political Transformation in Sudan [EN/AR]

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The transition process that followed Sudan’s 2019 revolution was designed to lead up to—and be advanced by—national elections. Those polls will be crucial to the success and credibility of political transition. They carry significant risks, however—and those risks have multiplied since the coup of October 2021. The electoral process, and especially the results, may well be challenged by key stakeholders.

Scepticism about the process will be encouraged by the long and problematic electoral history in Sudan. That history offers dramatic evidence of the different possibilities of elections by adult suffrage and secret ballot: potentially a way to create accountability and nurture popular participation, elections can also be tools of authoritarian rule.
The former regime in Sudan was adept at manipulating elections. This did not simply involve faking votes or results, although that did happen. Just as importantly, elections were one of the ways in which the National Congress Party (NCP) embedded itself in society: taking advantage of the hopes and rivalries that run through ordinary life, turning the polls into instruments for a clientelist politics that rewarded those who aligned themselves with the government. Planning for the next elections in Sudan must be informed by an awareness of the challenges raised by this experience.

This report identifies a series of key areas in which decisions need to be taken around the design of the electoral process, and support for this. It lays out different options and discusses the implications of the possible alternatives. This report does not offer direct recommendations. There is no one model of a perfect election, and in each of the areas considered, any decision will carry both advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the choices to be made about the electoral process should reflect the priorities and decisions of the Sudanese public and policymakers (in terms of design) and the concerns of civil society and international partners (in terms of support).

Electoral System

What principle of representation should be followed in the electoral system? Sudan has seen multiple experiments on this issue. Broadly, systems that offer more fairness in terms of representation tend to be more complex and may appear less transparent to Sudanese voters.

Political Parties

How should political parties be regulated or supported? Parties are central to representative electoral politics, but most parties have been and remain institutionally weak. Regulations intended to strengthen parties may restrict political freedom.
International support for strengthening political parties has not been conspicuously successful.

Voter And Civic Education

How should voter and civic education be undertaken? Understanding both the system of government and the electoral process is important for enabling engaged citizenship.
At the same time, there is a danger that civic and voter education may underestimate voters, whose decisions are often rooted in a very accurate appreciation of political realities.

Electoral Management

How can the substantial electoral management experience built up through previous elections effectively be drawn upon in organizing future elections? While potentially valuable, reliance on that experience may reproduce a range of problems that characterized previous elections. These range from logistical difficulties to multiple kinds of manipulation and a failure to handle complaints and disputes effectively.

Campaign Regulation

How can the flagrant abuse of public resources in campaigning during previous elections be avoided in new ones? Although the distribution of money and other items to voters during campaigning is illegal, it has been common. The laws have been used not to prevent the practice, but rather to the advantage of the incumbent regime. Therefore, decisions must be taken on which laws can be effectively and equitably enforced.