Note: This is an email I received April 1, 2010 from JR Zadelman. I am reprinting it in its entirety.
U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration began crisis talks with political leaders in Khartoum on Thursday after the shock withdrawal of a presidential candidate threatened to undermine the credibility of coming elections.
Yasir Arman, the candidate for the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) pulled out of the race late on Wednesday, less than two weeks before voting, citing concerns over election fraud and insecurity in Darfur.
Opposition parties were due to meet later on Thursday to discuss whether to unite in boycotting the vote, a move that would seriously undermine what were supposed to be Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years.
The SPLM also said it would boycott voting in Darfur, the scene of a seven-year conflict, going back on an earlier threat to pull out of the whole vote in the north in solidarity with opposition parties
The elections are central to a 2005 peace deal that ended mor e than two decades of civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the South, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.
Analysts said Arman’s withdrawal effectively handed the presidential race to Sudan’s incumbent president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and could be part of a deal with Bashir’s northern National Congress Party to guarantee a referendum on southern independence also promised under the peace deal.
But a boycott by the opposition could derail any claim by Bashir to have been elected in fully democratic elections.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Gration had flown to Khartoum in reaction to Wednesday’s news and was planning to shuttle between meetings with leading opposition and government figures.
On Wednesday a joint statement by Washington, Britain and Norway said they were “deeply concerned by reports of continued administrative and logistical (electoral) challenges, as well as restrictions o n political freedoms”.
But they said “irrespective of the outcome of elections”, it was essential the January 2011 referendum go ahead on time.
Sudan’s north-south civil war killed 2 million people and destabilised much of east Africa. Darfur’s separate conflict has claimed an estimated 300,000 lives in violence Washington has called genocide.
Last year the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes in Darfur. He hopes to defy the court and legitimise his rule with a win in April’s polls.