Sudan: Kiir out of election run as SPLM sets sights on a split with the north

Nairobi (Kenya) — The Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement is more interested in a separate Southern Sudan than the impending national polls.

By nominating a junior official, Yasin Armani - instead of the party leader, Salva Kiir - to contest against President Omar al-Bashir in the national election slated for April, the SPLM has shown it would rather concentrate on the 2011 referendum that decides the fate of the South. This is in addition to complaints that its partner in the peace deal - the National Congress Party (NCP) - has already skewed the playing field by manipulating the census results through the voter registration exercise. A case in point is the oil-rich Southern Kordofan, where the SPLM plans to boycott elections over claims of irregularity.

Edward Teso, a veteran journalist based in Juba, told The EastAfrican that the party leadership nominated Mr Arman due to concerns that there might be nobody to guide the Southerners towards a separate country, if Mr Kiir - who is also the First Vice President - were to contest for the presidency.

"Should Kiir stand for the presidency and presumably fail, what will be the fate of the people of Southern Sudan?" Mr Teso asked.

Besides, Mr Kiir would be required to relinquish both the post of the Commander-in-Chief of the SPLA as well as the presidency of the South to his deputy, Riek Machar. This would leave him in a precarious position given that the chances of failing to become president are high.

Also, SPLM's political bureau believes that since a non-Muslim has never been president of Sudan, Mr Kiir, who is a Christian, would most likely fail in his pursuit.

SPLM is hoping that apart from giving the party a national image, Mr Arman will attract protest votes in the four regions of Darfur, the extreme north, the east and the south - that are dissatisfied with the NCP leadership.

However, there are doubts that the elections - which are the first democratic polls in 24 years - will be peaceful, given the high level of suspicion between the two partners. For instance, Human Rights Watch has complained that there is a lot of political intolerance in both the North and South.

There are attempts to force Mr Kiir to resign from the military before contesting the presidency of the South. The chairman of the registration committee in the National Elections Committee, Mukhtar Al Asam, has already issued Mr Kiir a letter to that effect.

The South is also accusing the NCP of using the security laws that do not allow open criticism of the government. They also accuse one Lam Akol, a former foreign affairs minister who broke from the rebel group to form the SPLM-DC, of working in cohoots with NCP to promote armed conflict in the South.

The SPLM on the other hand has been accused of impeding the free movement of parties deemed to be sympathetic to the North.

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