Umma opposition party boycotts Sudan vote

Khartoum–A key opposition party in northern Sudan is boycotting this week’s local and parliamentary elections, a senior party official said Thursday, in another blow to the country’s first multiparty balloting in more than two decades.

Separately, election observers from the European Union said Thursday their monitors would not observe the vote in volatile Darfur, apparently because of the situation in the troubled western region.

The pullout by the Umma Party comes just days after the main southern party, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, announced it would boycott the poll in the northern states.

Senior Umma party official Mariam Sadiq told reporters her party’s move comes after the government and the national election commission failed to respond to key reform conditions.

Sudanese opposition parties accuse the ruling National Congress Party of using state resources, limiting their access to the media and controlling the election commission.

The elections start April 13, and will include local as well as parliamentary and presidential polls in a three-day balloting.

The vote is a crucial step in Sudan’s 2005 north-south peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war and paves the way for a referendum that will allow southerners to decide whether to secede from the Muslim-dominated north.

Some 2 million people died during the war. It is separate from the Darfur conflict which erupted in 2003 and has left 300,000 people dead. No comprehensive peace deal has been reached for Darfur but the elections are still going through there.

The EU’s Election Observation Mission said it has deployed all 130 observers across Sudan but was pulling six monitors sent to Darfur and would not observe the voting there.

"After returning from the region, I am convinced that the conditions for a firsthand observation are not met in Darfur," Veronique de Keyser, head of the team, said in Khartoum. "Therefore, I have decided to withdraw the observers from there. These observers have been relocated in other parts of the country."

SPML’s boycott is not 100 percent, though. The party pulled out of the race in the north, as well as the presidential race and balloting in Darfur but is running in the southern provinces and two regions along the oil-rich north-south boundary line.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday that Sudanese opposition parties "have legitimate grievances" but that the elections are a crucial step for Sudan.

Sudanese officials have said the polling will take place as planned but international observers and rights groups have expressed concerns that all signs point to a flawed process that is unlikely to deliver a free and fair vote on time.

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