Sudan passes election law ahead of key 2009 vote

Sudan's parliament passed a new election law on Monday, paving the way for the first free ballot in 23 years to take place on schedule next year in Africa's biggest state.

Sudan passes election law ahead of key 2009 vote
But opposition parties and south Sudanese former rebels said they only accepted the new law to avoid delaying the election and feared it could give an unfair advantage to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party.

The election is to be held following a 2005 peace deal which ended the north-south civil war and changed the way wealth and power are shared. The new election law will allow preparations to begin.

"This is truly a moment of transition -- this is an unprecedented piece of legislation," the leader of the majority group in parliament, Ghazi Salaheddin, told Reuters.

"It injects a new spirit in the Sudan, it gives Sudanese hope that ultimately they could have some peace, some national consensus," he added.

But the law was only approved reluctantly by the former southern rebels. Women from opposition parties protested against it outside parliament.

Some opponents criticised the 4 percent minimum vote needed for any party to enter parliament and the requirement for candidates at presidential elections to get at least 200 endorsements from 18 of Sudan's 25 states.


Opposition parties are also against using a separate list of women candidates to choose the 25 percent of the 448 parliamentary seats that are allocated for women. They would have preferred to have the women on the main party lists.

"We are not as different as women we are different as political parties," said Mariam al-Mahdi, from the opposition Umma Party which won the last democratic elections in 1986.

The ruling party's former rebel foe, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), said other laws would still need to be passed to ensure a fair election.

"The press and media law, the national security law and even the criminal laws much be changed," said Yasir Arman, a senior SPLM official and member of parliament. "We cannot have free and fair elections without having new laws."

Another outstanding cause of friction is the oil-producing Abyei region, where northern and southern forces clashed in May.

On Monday a southern army military observer shot and wounded a U.N. military observer and a northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) officer in what SAF called a "personal dispute" south of Aybei.

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission monitoring the north-south deal, Ashraf Qazi, condemned the attack and called on the SPLM to bring those responsible to justice.

"Qazi strongly urges the parties not to allow this incident to impede or interfere with implementation of the Abyei road map," he said in a statement.

On Monday the ruling NCP and former rebel SPLM agreed on details of how and when the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague will resolve the dispute over Abyei's borders. The ruling party official dealing with Abyei said arbitrators could begin work within two months.

A joint military force has begun patrols in Abyei, where at least 90 people were killed in the fighting, but there is still no agreement on a temporary government for the central region.

Last Mod: 08 Temmuz 2008, 18:27
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