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Cablegate: National Assembly Finally Passes Election Law

VZCZCXRO1711
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1014/01 1901132
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081132Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1266
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001014

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KSCA OTRA EAID CDC SU
SUBJECT: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FINALLY PASSES ELECTION LAW

REFS: A) Khartoum 942
B) Khartoum 961

1. (U) SUMMARY: After weeks of delay, the Sudan National Assembly
(NA) finally passed the electoral law July 7, capping a contentious
special legislative session called specifically for the purpose of
passing the law. The law provides the legal groundwork for holding
nationwide elections in 2009, as required under the terms of the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The bill as passed largely
reflects a deal worked out between the NCP and the SPLM (details Ref
A). However, during the legislative debate, the threshold for
parties to be represented in the NA was reduced from five to four
percent in an attempt to placate the smaller parties. The bill
provides for 25 percent of the seats to be allocated to women, who
will be nominated and presented on a separate list. The next step
towards the elections is for the President to appoint (and the
National Assembly to approve) the nine members of the new National
Electoral Commission (NEC), which is to organize the elections. The
NA is expected to be called back in a special session to approve the
President's nominees. END SUMMARY

BILL PROVIDES FOR HYBRID VOTING SYSTEM
--------------------------------------

2. (U) The NA approved the bill with 350 yes votes from the 366
members present. Fifteen voted no, most of them from the NDA.
Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed, NCP MP and member of the National
Constitutional Review Commission, told Embassy that the passage of
the law marks one of the most significant milestones to date for CPA
implementation. As passed July 7, the bill provides for a hybrid
voting system, with 60 percent of seats to be decided by a
first-past-the-post basis, and the remaining 40 percent determined
by proportional voting. The proportional vote will take place at
the state level, representing a concession by the NCP to the SPLM.
These provisions were contained in the deal worked out between the
SPLM and the NCP.

CHANGE FAILS TO PLACATE SMALLER PARTIES
----------------------------------------

3. (U) Smaller parties had said they were generally content with
NCP-SPLM compromise. However, during the legislative session three
parliamentary blocs - the National Democratic Alliance, Darfur
peace, and the Eastern Front -- continued to press 43 points of
disagreement with the draft. There was talk of walking out of
voting if their concerns were ignored. In an attempt to bring the
smaller parties on board, the NA amended the draft, lowering the
threshold for parties to obtain representation in the Assembly from
five to four percent of the vote.

4. (SBU) The gesture failed to satisfy many of the smaller parties.
Ali Traio of the SLM, Minni Minawi's Darfur party, told Embassy
that the NCP and the SPLM had used their mechanical majority to push
the bill through the NA. This procedure was also criticized by
Fadlalla Borma of the National Umma Party, who complained to poloff
it was "inconsistent with the interim constitution and the CPA." He
said that unless the party is convinced that the elections process
is fair and just, "we are just going to boycott them."

5. (SBU) Other parties dismissed talk of an election boycott
despite their dissatisfaction. Tag Elsir M. Saleh, Deputy Secretary
General of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said the law as
passed represents a compromise between the two main parties (SPLM
and NCP), but added that this compromise was good for the country.
"We support the agreement," he said, adding that the DUP had been
able to convince some of the smaller parties in the NA not to walk
out of the voting, "and that is an achievement." Youssef Siddiq,
Deputy Secretary General of the Sudan Communist Party (SCP), told
the Embassy his party would not boycott the election even though the
party's demands had not been met in drafting the law. He said the
SCP would now concentrate on working to create conditions for a free
and fair election. "Reviewing the national security law, the press
law and all other freedom laws is a top priority," he continued, "we
hope that the government includes all political parties in solving
the Darfur problem before the elections."

WOMEN TO BE GUARANTEED REPRESENTATION
-------------------------------------

6. (U) Under the new law, women are guaranteed 25 percent of the
seats in the NA. This will be accomplished through a separate
voting list. This provision went against one of the main objections
by the smaller parties, who had demanded a unified list containing
men and women together, according to Atem Garang (SPLM), Deputy
Speaker in the National Assembly.

NEXT HURDLE - APPOINTMENT OF NEC
--------------------------------

7. (U) The draft law now goes to the Council of States for a review
to make sure it does not conflict with state legislation. This step
is largely a formality, however, said Manoa Aligo, leader of the

KHARTOUM 00001014 002 OF 002


SPLM Caucus in the NA. Aligo predicted the draft would land on the
President's desk within a week for his signature. Once he signs,
the bill becomes law - at which point he has 30 days to appoint the
nine members of the NEC. The NA then must approve the nominees with
a two-thirds majority. While the NA is now in summer recess until
October 13, NA Speaker Ibrahim Akhmed al-Tahir, said the Assembly
would probably be called into special session in August to approve
the nominees. Fast approval is key to keeping the nationwide vote
on schedule, since the NEC has the task of organizing the
elections.

8. (U) There has been speculation that the SPLM and the NCP would
agree on a list of NEC candidates for the President to choose from,
but Aligo said that has not happened. In public statements, the
smaller parties already have been pressing to be included in the
nomination process, saying the NEC will be more credible if it were
seen as being non-partisan and inclusive. The SPLM's Aligo stressed
that a major challenge will be securing adequate financing for the
NEC. Most Sudanese government commissions suffer from chronic lack
of funding, he said.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: While the new election law has passed perhaps its
biggest hurdle by being approved by the National Assembly, daunting
challenges remain on the road to the 2009 elections. Attention now
turns to the nomination of the National Election Commission. The
two parties in the GNU would be wise to avoid the temptation to
agree upon a list between themselves, but rather include some other
political party representatives as well. As NCRC member Dirdeiry
stressed to the Embassy, the NEC will have to be widely perceived as
non-partisan and inclusive if it is to enjoy the confidence of
Sudan's citizens. Post will remain engaged throughout this process,
working with other concerned embassies to keep the long election
process on track and on schedule. The key challenge in our
elections strategy will be obtaining access for NGO partners to work
in the North, and we will continue to press the regime on this
point, though of course how willing they will be depends entirely on
the evolving nature of our relationship with them.

FERNANDEZ

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