South Sudan’s main party has announced a partial and unilateral boycott of April elections, withdrawing its presidential candidate and boycotting polls in Darfur, citing the conflict there and electoral fraud.
The move surprised and angered Sudan’s opposition, who said they had been promised the support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) for a joint position on a possible boycott of the April 11 polls in the entire north of Sudan.
Some analysts have said with Yasir Arman out of the race, incumbent Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s return to the presidential palace is assured.
Here are some scenarios of what could happen next.
The opposition parties will meet on Thursday night. Some want a boycott but others want to challenge Bashir. Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) will hope their divisions will stop them reaching a common position.
A mass withdrawal from the polls would deny Bashir the legitimacy he wants to help him defy an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
The SPLM, who enjoy majority support in the south, which has 25 percent of Sudan’s electorate, have not endorsed another presidential candidate. Arman has said they will not do so because they want to expose fraud in the presidential elections.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has mass support from the Islamic Khatmiyya sect, had been in talks with the NCP to endorse Bashir in exchange for key government positions but more recently joined the opposition ranks, mulling a boycott.
The NCP will watch closely whether the DUP decides to withdraw from the presidential poll, stay in the race or endorse Bashir.
The other large northern sectarian party, the Umma Party, may be reluctant to withdraw its presidential candidate. Umma party chief Sadeq al-Mahdi was the last democratically elected leader of Sudan and has been considered one of the three favourites in the presidential election.
He may believe his chances are good of beating Bashir with Arman out of the picture, and could push for the opposition to unite behind his candidacy.
However alleged electoral irregularities could push them to boycott, saying there is no way the polls can be free and fair and Bashir is already guaranteed a win.
The only long-term international observer mission, the Carter Center, and observers from the European Union will be following events closely.
While they are likely to continue their missions, they will be concerned that any endorsement they give the polls will lend credibility to the outcome.
Earlier this week Bashir, worried by the threat of an SPLM-opposition alliance, issued a stark warning to the SPLM: if you refuse to take part in elections, the planned 2011 referendum in south Sudan on secession will not be held.
The SPLM’s announcement of a boycott of elections in Darfur implies it will continue to run in all other parts of Sudan, ending its earlier threat of a full boycott in the north in solidarity with opposition parties.
The referendum is a priority for the SPLM and the international community, concerned any move to derail the sensitive vote could reignite a north-south civil war which claimed 2 million lives and destabilised much of east Africa.
(Reporting by Opheera McDoom)