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Cablegate: Constitutional Review Commission Co-Chair Optimistic About

VZCZCXRO3818
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1036/01 1921347
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 101347Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1299
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001036

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KSCA OTRA EAID CDC SU
SUBJECT: CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW COMMISSION CO-CHAIR OPTIMISTIC ABOUT
UPCOMING ELECTIONS

REF: KHARTOUM 1014

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Prof. Abdullah Idris, co-chairman of Sudan's
National Constitutional Review Commission (NCRC), believes the
newly-passed election law (REFTEL) provides a sound basis for
elections, and he is optimistic that free and fair elections will
take place on time in 2009. However, he cautions that the yet-to-be
appointed National Election Commission (NEC) will face a daunting
task in organizing the elections, and will need foreign training and
assistance. While relevant legislation, such as the press law,
needs to be reformed, he noted some important safeguards
guaranteeing a free electoral climate were built into the election
law itself. Foreign partners can best help by continuing to stress
that the international community will not countenance attempts to
subvert the process towards elections next year, he said. END
SUMMARY

2. (SBU) Speaking to Embassy PolOff July 9 at the NCRC's modern
offices in Khartoum, Idris said the new election law was
substantially the same as the version his Commission had originally
drafted and handed over to the Presidency and then to the National
Assembly (NA) for consideration. He credited an elections expert
provided by the Turkish Embassy as invaluable assistance in drafting
the law: without him, the law would not exist today, he said.

LAW PROVIDES SOUND BASIS FOR ELECTIONS
--------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Addressing complaints by some of Sudan's smaller political
parties that their concerns were not taken into account in the
legislation, Idris said the original draft had been the product of
intense and broad consultations throughout Sudan, and had been
approved unanimously by Commission staff. He said he points out to
smaller parties, "Look, the NCP and the SPLM are in power," so they
will largely determine legislation. The law is not perfect, but
it's impossible to please everyone. It is vital to the country's
future that we have elections, and it's best that that be done with
a national consensus. Let the national democratic process take
place. It is to the smaller parties' advantage to support the
elections. Time is now of the essence, and they should climb on
board, he said.

SPLM, NCP HAVE DECIDED TO PUSH AHEAD ON ELECTIONS
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) Idris added that he is fairly confident that, barring
unforeseen circumstances0free a.d fair electinS vill taoe plicu$onQ
IoQ. Le oQ$cnvaoceQvHevPf.ti pu*LM0`^fJ@&op-Chairman
said he has "no doubt" that both Sudanese President Bashir and GoSS
President Salva Kiir will be re-elected, so they should be able to
live with independently-elected assemblies.

APPOINTING AN INDEPENDENT NEC
-----------------------------

5. (SBU) Idris said he hopes the Presidency will nominate, and that
the NA will approve, the full NEC within one month. It is
"absolutely vital" that a truly independent, non-partisan National
Election Commission be appointed. This was the reason the NCRC
wrote into the draft law provisions requiring a 2/3's majority vote
in the NA for approval of all nominees to the Commission. The
process ensures that the names of nominees will be made public, so
they will face public scrutiny. "We wanted this to be debated in
the NA," he said, "and that will necessarily engage the other
political parties." If the NEC does not enjoy widespread confidence
among the Sudanese people, the results "would be disastrous," he
said. "People can see what is now happening in Zimbabwe, what
happened in Kenya. People can sense if you're not playing fair."

NEC FACES HUGE CHALLENGE
------------------------

6. (SBU) Looking ahead, Prof. Idris admitted that the new National
Election Commission (NEC) faces huge challenges in organizing
elections for next year. Naming the Commission's nine members will
only be the first step; then the members will have to build an
effective bureaucracy from scratch. Ideally, the newly appointed
commissioners will receive crash training, possibly by the
Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral
Assistance (or IDEA, www.idea.int), with which the NCRC has already
been working. Then, the newly-created NEC has to organize national
elections in a country sadly lacking in infrastructure, particularly
the South, he said.

NEW LAW CONTAINS ITS OWN SAFEGUARDS
-----------------------------------

KHARTOUM 00001036 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) Asked about the need for additional legislative reform -
such as of the security and press laws - before elections can be
held, Idris acknowledged that all relevant legislation should be
brought into compliance with the constitution before elections.
However, he stressed that such far-reaching legislative reform is
not absolutely necessary for free and fair elections to take place.
Anticipating that the NA might not prove up to the task, the NCRC
included within the election law safeguard provisions, such as
prohibiting state funds from being used for partisan campaigning,
guaranteeing free access to independent election monitors and
observers, etc. Accordingly, "the parties shouldn't threaten to
boycott the elections if this or that new law is not passed," he
said.

FOREIGN PARTNERS CAN HELP
-------------------------

8. (SBU) Without being asked, Idris outlined an important role for
the international community. He said a procession of foreign
ambassadors have visited his offices, all asking how they can help.
Their most important contribution, he says, would be to keep
hammering home the message that the international community will not
put up with attempts to undermine or delay the election.

NCRC LOOKS AHEAD TO REFERENDUM LAW
----------------------------------

9. (SBU) With its election law responsibilities now behind it, the
NCRC is now looking ahead to the challenge of drafting a national
law to provide for the 2011 referendum for Southern Sudan and Abyei,
under terms of the CPA. Idris said his commission badly needs
foreign assistance from international bodies with experience
organizing this kind of independence referendum.

10. (SBU) COMMENT: The Yale-educated Idris impresses as being one
of Sudan's most competent public servants, one whose presents
himself as being entirely commitment to democracy and elections.
The professor is probably underestimating the ability of the two
parties to find ways of delaying nationwide elections. However, we
hope his cautious optimism that a sound basis for free and fair
elections has been created proves justified. He is not shy about
requesting foreign assistance, so hopefully the NEC, once
established, will quickly provide the international community a plan
for assistance. We disagree with Idris that additional legislative
safeguards may not be required, and will continue to press the
parties (especially the NCP) to revise media and security laws in
advance of elections.

FERNANDEZ

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