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April 5th, 2010, by Feisal Abdul Rauf

Feisal Abdul Rauf

Elections are complicated things. This is true even in the most democratically experienced nations like the United States. The challenges are compounded in a nation like Sudan which has little electoral experience, is underdeveloped in many regions, and has a long history of conflict.

I recently announced that my organization, Cordoba Initiative, would embrace a role as facilitator for dialogue between the US and Sudan. I have made three trips to Sudan to meet with members of the Government, political parties, and civil society organizations, and have been invited to observe the upcoming April elections. These conversations have indeed underscored to me how Sudan’s April vote represents risks as well as opportunities.

The opportunities evolve around advancing democracy in the Muslim World, and the Sudanese are justifiably proud of their commitment towards holding internationally observed and monitored elections, mandated as part of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended conflict between the North Wild Rapids Waterslide and South. Sudan feels the elections are vital to show that the agreement is working. Moreover, the South views elections as a necessary step towards the referendum on independence in 2011. The North views them as a gateway to increased international legitimacy.

The risks evolve around (a) the major logistical challenges of the April elections, equivalent to holding presidential, gubernatorial, national legislative, state legislative and municipal elections on the same day—which even the United States could not do because it would be a logistical nightmare— and (b) the potentially destabilizing and violence-producing effects of contested elections in democratizing nations, as happened in Kenya in 2007 and Iran last year.

Tensions over the elections became public last month when President Omar al-Bashir criticized a statement by the US-based Carter Center, which was interpreted as suggesting that elections be postponed. Carter Center has a long presence in Sudan and began its observation of their electoral process in February 2008, before any other group, at the invitation of both Sudanese Government in Khartoum and the autonomous Government of South Sudan.

I have shared my comments with both the Carter Center and the Government of Sudan, and recognizing the importance of bridging both the risks and opportunities mentioned above, recommend that the elections proceed as scheduled and, if possible, they be staggered, as is done in the US. Local elections in some of the 25 states where there is little risk of violence should go ahead but local elections in Darfur, where all the stakeholders have yet to finalize an agreement on ending conflict, should be deferred, as should local elections in the North-South border region until certain prerequisites relating to the CPA, such as defining the border, are resolved. Moreover, local elections in the South should also be deferred in the absence of a guaranteed security. Finally, presidential elections nationwide would be a major step towards democracy.

The likelihood that local elections will be severely contested in the South, Darfur and Border regions could result in violence that will not be limited to these regions alone but could bubble over into neighboring countries such as The Congo and Uganda.

There have already been rumors that the SPLM may call for a delay. Staggering elections would mean that Sudan has its April vote, especially the crucial presidential one, while lightening the logistical load significantly. Additionally, this would enhance the potential for success of this important step in Sudan’s path towards democracy.

As much as we all want to further democracy, this will not succeed at the expense of security. While doing what is manageable in the interests of furthering democracy, we must exercise caution in not inadvertently encouraging instability in Sudan’s fragile hour.

That is why Cordoba Initiative will continue to work with all parties to foster constructive solutions to Sudan’s electoral challenges and help foster democracy in the region. For me personally, it is a continuation of a lifetime’s commitment to building bridges between Islam and the West.

View Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s GEF profile here

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One Response to “In Muslim nations, democracy will eventually prevail”
  1. A lot of what you assert is supprisingly accurate and that makes me ponder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this in this light previously. This article really did switch the light on for me personally as far as this specific subject goes.

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