Democratic Transition in Sudan: Prospects for the 2009 Elections

Tasneem Jamal

Emily Schroeder

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2007 Volume 28 Issue 3

Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in January 2005, marked the end of the civil war between the Government and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). According to the CPA, midterm elections are to be held in 2008 or 2009. The elections are to be followed by a referendum in 2011, in which the South will decide whether to separate from the rest of Sudan.

The CPA states that elections must take place before the end of 2009. In Sudan weather must be considered in scheduling such events. Both preparations and elections need to take place during the dry season from November to April. If, as seems likely, elections are scheduled for February 2009, there is only the dry season from November 2007 to April 2008 in which to prepare. February elections would allow for a runoff in March.

While timely and effective elections are critical to the peaceful transformation of post-conflict Sudan, daunting challenges stand in the way of a successful outcome.

Election challenges

Boundary demarcations

The CPA requires that the North–South border and the Abyei boundary be demarcated to determine oil revenue distribution, territory for the census, and voting constituencies. The committee established in November 2005 to determine the North–South border began work in March 2007 and to date has only reviewed maps. In July 2005 the Abyei commission presented its recommendations in a report that was rejected by Khartoum. The oil-rich region of Abyei, which is claimed by both the North and South, currently lacks local government and public services and is denied revenues from its oil resources. This region could become a flashpoint for renewed violence.

Population census

The CPA-mandated nationwide census is necessary to determine an equitable allocation of government seats and distribution of government services. Originally set for July 2007, the census was first postponed to 15 November 2007 and has been further delayed to February 2008 (Apiku 2007). While a successful pilot census was conducted from 15-30 April 2007, significant challenges remain for the national census, including disruptions caused by the rainy season (IRIN 2007) and a lack of funds, especially from the Government of National Unity (UNFPA 2007).

Election laws and institutions

The CPA requires the creation of a legislative framework, including the elections law and, one month later, an independent National Electoral Commission (NEC), which is to enact the law. While an elections bill has not yet been passed, reports indicate that one will be submitted to the October 2007 National Assembly (UNSC 2007, p. 8). If this bill is passed, the NEC could be in place by November, but it will face a formidable task to plan and execute multilevel elections by early 2009.

Challenges to political pluralism

While the two leading and well financed parties — the National Congress Party in the North and the SPLM in the South — prepare for the elections, smaller political parties face difficulties. The 2007 Political Parties Act allows for the dissolution of political parties and abuse of this provision is feared (Jooma 2007, p. 9). It has also been reported that political parties trying to register in the South face unrealistic requirements and deadlines. Another concern is the low percentage of women involved in all political parties.

Civil society

A weak civil society and untrained journalists arouse concern when contemplating the political process. Strong and independent media, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations can serve important functions as monitors and advocates to pressure the government on legislation, accountability, and transparency. Civil society can also provide civic education and mobilize support for the election process, and help to prevent recourse to violent conflict when the results are released.

Security implications

For many Sudanese, peace is uncertain and a real fear remains that war will break out again. Ongoing violence and the dislocation of many residents in Darfur raise concerns about the viability of elections in this region. The South continues to face threats to security from landmines, northern-aligned armed groups, and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Security vacuums result from a shortage of trained police; military redeployment; and the slow pace of programs of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. In the meantime, security issues such as small arms control, the dissolution of militia groups, and security sector reform go unattended.


All these — and other — challenges to the implementation of the CPA can be met only if the international community responds with greater commitment, more resources, and maximum flexibility. To meet a tight deadline, international donors must be able to quickly disburse funds. At the same time diplomatic pressure should be exerted on all Sudanese players to undertake free and fair elections in 2009. The Government of Canada has responded positively by co-chairing the Khartoum-based donors’ election committee.


For more information see Emily Schroeder, Elections in Sudan 2008/9: A Complex Challenge in Need of Urgent Donor Attention, Ploughshares Briefing #07/2


Apiku, Simon. 2007. Sudan delays census until February – UNFPA. Reuters, 2 September.

IRIN. 2007. Census delayed but politically ‘critical’. 24 May.

Jooma, Mariam Bibi. 2007. Dual realities: Peace and war in the Sudan—An update on the implementation of the CPA. Situation Report. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 16 May.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 2007. 2006 Annual Census Progress Report. Sudan Country Office, Population Census Support Unit. February.

United Nations Security Council (UNSC). 2007. Report of the Secretary General on the Sudan. S/2007/213, 17 April.

Spread the Word