War crimes President wins key Sudan election

President Omar al-Bashir has been
declared winner of Sudan’s first open elections in 24 years despite his
outstanding international arrest warrant over war crimes in Darfur.

The 66-year-old leader wanted a
clear victory to prove his domestic popularity in the face of International
Criminal Court charges over his involvement in Darfur’s seven-year civil war.

But the contest was marred by
allegations of vote rigging, intimidation and doctored voters’ lists, charges
which led to most opposition candidates pulling out before polling day. Despite
this, election officials announced that Mr Bashir had won with 68 per cent of
the vote.

Salva Kiir, president of
semi-autonomous southern Sudan, won his second term in office with 93 per cent
of ballots cast there.

The elections were the first since
1986. They mark a key milestone in conditions laid down in the 2005 peace deal
which ended Africa’s longest-running civil war between Sudan’s north and its

Mr Bashir said that the Sudanese
people “have achieved this moral victory before the eyes of the world in a
civilised, high class and shared manner”.

Election observers would disagree:
initial reports warned that the polls fell far short of international standards
because of faulty voter lists, delays on vote day and intimidation of some

The country faces a far sterner
test next January, when the south will again go to the polls to vote in a
referendum on whether the country should split into two.

Mr Bashir promised to ensure that
that referendum goes ahead. Some fear it will be delayed as the north would
lose control of several key oilfields if the south secedes.

“It was not perfect, but this
election could have been a lot worse,” said a European diplomat in the
capital Khartoum.

“Mr Bashir has won his mandate
to show off to the international community that he is still popular, even if
there was no opposition. But the real show will come in January. Between now
and then, a lot can change.”