Sudan’s president set to win reelection

The tribal chief parked his bicycle beneath a tree, walked into a schoolhouse and cast his ballot for the man with the power to grant what he wants most: a paved road running past the fishmongers to the highway.

“I am voting for our leader,” Hamid Hamdoon said, referring to President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, the former general who has led Sudan for more than a decade. “I expect the country to move forward. We need water, doctors and hospitals. But in this neighborhood we desire asphalt.”

Bashir is expected to easily win elections that ended Thursday after five days of balloting marked by a partial boycott by the opposition, fraud accusations and confusion over polling places. Results are to be announced Tuesday.

Human rights groups have criticized the vote as a maneuver to legitimize a president charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But for Hamdoon and millions of Sudanese, such charges carry little resonance. What they see are office buildings shaped like billowing sails of glass along the Nile. Oil money has made this poor capital feel rich, at least the parts that glimmer beyond the crowded alleys and mud-walled homes of families living on less than $2 a day.

“Most Sudanese are backing the president,” said Mohammed Hassan Amin, deputy chairman of parliament and a member of the ruling National Congress Party. “It was quite clear the opposition was weak. It makes no difference how much noise they make.”

Amin, a lithe man in a crisp white tunic and leopard-spotted slippers, epitomizes the ruling party’s national ambitions and local connections. He keeps an apartment in Khartoum, but his political base is an hour’s drive away on new blacktop through desert and brush.

Shaking hands and sharing meals with his supporters, he promised to bring their villages electricity, water and farming jobs. Later, in an interview at his mother’s home, he shifted from village folksiness to worldly panache when asked about the allegations of war crimes committed by Bashir and the government in Darfur, where about 300,000 people have died in recent years.

“The international court’s future is in jeopardy anyway,” he said before offering a bowl of custard sprinkled with banana slices. “It’s not an international court of justice. It was made for Africa. Look at Israel. Look at the U.S. Why have they not been charged with war crimes? We don’t care about the international court.”

What the elections did not make clear is the effect such defiance will have on another vote. In January, the mainly Christian and animist south, which fought a two-decade civil war with Bashir’s government in the mostly Muslim north that ended in 2005, will hold a referendum on independence.

The south’s main party, the Southern People’s Liberation Movement, boycotted many of this week’s elections to consolidate its power. Bashir has said he would allow the semiautonomous south to break away, but that could mean losing the nation’s richest oil reserves.

In Khartoum’s Jireif neighborhood, voters weren’t thinking about oil as they waited for ballots dotted with symbols to guide the illiterate to their choices. It was near noon when Hamdoon, the chief, rolled his bicycle into the tree shade. Sweat dripped from beneath his turban, ran though his gray whiskers. He had voted but then remembered he had something to do.

“My wife delivered a dead baby on Friday,” he said. “She was five months pregnant and lost it. I don’t know why. She’s in bed and can’t come to vote, so I’m going to check to see if they’ll let me have a ballot for her.”

He walked toward the schoolhouse and spoke with an election official in an orange vest. Heads nodded; no ballot appeared.

“That man said my wife needed to come in person to vote,” he said, straightening his handlebars and riding over the dirt road toward home.


Special correspondent Alsanosi Ahmed contributed to this report.