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Regional press query legitimacy of Sudan vote

A man votes in the Darfur town of el Fasher, Sudan, Sunday

As voting in the Sudanese elections goes into a second day, commentators in the country are debating whether the logistical problems that blighted the first day are evidence of vote-rigging.

There were calls in the Sudanese press for the voting period to be extended, with one commentator wondering whether international observers in the country were ignoring the problems in order to get the vote over with.

In the Middle East, the press was largely enthusiastic about the return of the democratic process to Sudan, while newspapers in Africa analysed the implications of the vote for regional stability.

'Charade'

The demand by the southern SPLM ex-rebels that voting be extended by four days because of problems on the first day dominated the Sudanese press.

Writing in the privately-owned Al-Tayyar, Huwaida Sir al-Khatim argued that the determination of the international community to finish the elections on time threatened to undermine them, and accused some countries of acting in their own interests by urging Sudan to "hurry" with the election.

The privately-owned Al-Sudani cited several examples of the "confusion" that had marred the first day and urged the National Electoral Commission to "please stop this charade".

The editorial in Sawt al-Ummah, the newspaper of the opposition National Ummah Party, warned that Sunday's events were proof that "rigging is occurring".

The Akhir Lahzah daily thought there could be no question that mistakes had been made, and wondered: "Were these mistakes deliberate?"

The Sudanese government newspaper Sudan Vision sought to play down fears of vote-rigging. Writing on the day voting began, the paper said that voters would "go to the ballot boxes with total confidence" in the fairness of the election due to the presence of international observers.

The privately-owned Al-Ra'y al-Amm said that the "eyes of the world" were on Sudan, making it unlikely that the incumbent government would be able to commit electoral fraud.

'Historic event'

The press in the Middle East was divided over whether the vote represented a significant step forward for Sudan or a false dawn.

The failure of the opposition to unite behind a single candidate to stand against President Omar al-Bashir meant the "loss of a big opportunity to legitimately change the ruling system", wrote Attiyah Isawi in Egypt's Al-Ahram.

Despite the problems blighting the election, UAE's pro-government Al-Bayan hailed Sudan's return to multi-party elections as an "historic event". Rather than lament a lost opportunity, the paper urged the Sudanese people to ignore the "clamour" over the election's legitimacy and seize the chance to secure a democratic future.

In a strongly positive editorial, Syria's government-owned Al-Thawrah congratulated the Sudanese people on having completed an "extraordinary process" that had achieved a "new act of democracy" in Sudan. The English-language Saudi daily Jedda Arab News was more equivocal, saying that the country now stands at a "crossroads".

Positive step

The African press focused on the election's implications for the wider region. In neighbouring Uganda, the Daily Monitor urged the Sudanese people to take advantage of this opportunity to put their "political problems behind them and concentrate on development".

The success of the election, and the prospect of stability in Sudan, was "equally important" to Uganda for economic and security reasons, said the editorial.

Despite claims by the Sudanese opposition parties of irregularities in the conduct of the vote, Kenya's independent The Standard was full of praise for an election which "proves that Sudan has come a lot further than analysts thought".

The event is "significant for Sudan and the region" because it shows that the democratic process can be established even in a country that has only recently emerged from a long-running civil war, the paper said.

The likelihood that Southern Sudan will vote to secede in a referendum scheduled for the beginning of next year has more damaging implications for the rest of the continent, according to Greg Mills, writing in South Africa's Cape Argus.

With the south unprepared for independence, the north opposed to it and the rest of Africa "pretending it will not happen", he wondered whether the referendum would open a "Pandora's box" of secession attempts in nation states across the region.

Sources: As listed

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.



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