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Sudan poll does not meet world standards: observers


Sudanese members of the National Elections Commission count ballots at a polling station in Omdurman, west Sudan's capital of Khartoum April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Sudanese members of the National Elections Commission count ballots at a polling station in Omdurman, west Sudan's capital of Khartoum April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's first multi-party elections in 24 years fell short of international standards, two international observation missions said on Saturday in the first authoritative judgments on the poll.

Final results of the presidential and legislative ballots are due on Tuesday, and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is widely expected to win, most of his rivals having boycotted the proceedings, accusing him of vote rigging.

"These elections have struggled to reach international standards. They have not reached them all," the head of the European Union observer mission in Sudan, Veronique de Keyser, told reporters.

"It is apparent that the elections will fall short of meeting international standards and Sudan's obligations for genuine elections in many respects," said a statement from the U.S. Carter Center seen by Reuters.

The preliminary statements will be a blow to Bashir who, analysts say, is looking for an internationally recognized win to legitimize his rule and fend off International Criminal Court charges that he masterminded war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region.

The elections were set up under a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south war in the oil producing state and also promised southerners a 2011 referendum on whether they should split off and become an independent country.

Ghazi Salaheddin, a senior official from Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), told Reuters he wanted to read the full reports of all elections observers before reacting, and the country's National Elections Commission declined to comment.

De Keyser said there had been "significant deficiencies" including logistical problems and intimidation.

Opposition parties had been free to voice complaints throughout the process, she added, praising the enthusiasm of voters and polling staff. Overall turnout would be around 60 percent, she said.

The elections as a whole were marred by complexity and confusion and dominated by the ruling parties in the north and south, the EU's preliminary statement said.

"Ultimately the success of the elections will depend on whether Sudan's leaders take action to promote lasting democratic transformation," the Carter statement said.

A separate mission from the European Parliament echoed many of the concerns but said the polls were still a step forward in the 2005 peace process.

"They enabled an unprecedented political debate in a war-torn country," MEP Ana Gomes said.

The European Union deployed around 140 observers but pulled its team out of Darfur, the site of a seven-year civil conflict, saying safety concerns were limiting its movements.

Around 70 observers from the Carter Center, led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, watched the vote.

A body of local campaign groups criticized Carter for making statements during voting they said appeared to support the validity of the poll, ignoring their complaints of incomplete ballot papers, a rigged voter registration, the beating of voters and other irregularities.

"We are writing to ask you to withdraw your observer mission from Sudan and salvage your own personal reputation and that of the Carter Center," read the statement from the Sudan Democracy First Group.

(Reporting by Opheera McDoom, writing by Andrew Heavens, editing by Michael Roddy)

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