Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is often lauded by the Arab world for championing the Palestinian cause. However, after stumbling into the world of Sudanese politics, Carter has lost all credibility. Inexplicably, Carter gave his blessing (with perfunctory caveats) to a rigged election that has handed victory to a genocidal war criminal who granted safe haven to Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.
Sudan held polls earlier this month (April 11-16) to elect a president and a legislature. These were the country’s first elections there since Omar El-Bashir’s Islamist military junta overthrew the government in 1989. While some Arab observers described the vote as a new possible beginning for Sudan, many parties decided to boycott them. And for good reason. The elections were neither free nor fair.
Carter, one of the international observers of Sudan’s elections, had an opportunity to expose the vote for the sham that it was. On the Carter Center’s website, he raised several concerns about the vote, but on the ground, the former president told reporters that he saw “no reasons for any concern” about the elections, except for “a few isolated stations way out,” that could experience some complications.
Carter’s endorsement is beyond the pale. El-Bashir’s government has been responsible for death and mayhem for decades. After the 1989 coup, El-Bashir’s regime ordered massacres against the Christians and animists in the south by deploying a militia known as the “Difaa al Shaabi.” By the year 2000, the ethnic cleansing campaigns widened to reach the Black Muslim provinces of Darfur. These attacks, carried out by another militia, the “Janjaweed,” prompted the international community in 2004 to declare the Darfur massacres a genocide.
In 2005, the Southern factions and the regime signed a peace treaty to put an end to the violence. Among other things, they agreed to hold a referendum in January 2011 for self-determination in the south. However, the treaty wasn’t worth much. El-Bashir’s regime refused to accept a UN-sponsored intervention in Darfur to protect civilians there; the regime continued to dispatch the Janjaweed to attack the black tribes. In 2008, the International Criminal Court investigated Omar El-Bashir for his role in the perpetration of genocide in Darfur.
Despite the ongoing bloodshed, over the last few years, Sudan’s political parties prepared for what they hoped would be a democratic transition. It is clear now that nothing will change. Nearly every political party has backed out of this election after learning that El-Bashir rigged the election to ensure his own victory.
When the election process began to unravel, El-Bashir attempted to save face through the statements of high-profile observers, including Jimmy Carter. Indeed, Carter’s presence there alone legitimized his criminal regime. And his comments failed to reflect the dismal reality of a vote that did not reflect the voice of the people.
In a country as vast as Sudan (about a quarter of the size of the United States) and that lacks basic infrastructure (roads and electricity, for example, are inconsistent throughout the country) how can international observers make an honest assessment of the elections? Moreover, how could Carter ignore that most major contenders boycotted the vote?
Carter did not have to look hard to find the irregularities, either. On the second day of the polls, the problems began. Citizens could not find their names on voter registries. Electoral lists in rural villages exceeded the number of inhabitants, which could enable the El-Bashir regime to pad its numbers. In fact, it was never revealed how many ballots the regime actually printed. The potential for fraud was everywhere.
Even worse, in places like Darfur, the government did nothing to account for the large number of displaced people—refugees that had been driven out by the regime in charge of the electoral process.
El-Bashir, predictably, has had an answer for everything. He blames these and other irregularities on poor logistics. All the while, he anticipates his landslide victory becoming official next week.
In a country where a president accused of war crimes can run for reelection, where an ongoing genocide has yet to be addressed, and where most political parties dispute the political process, Carter has clearly put himself on the wrong side of history. Indeed, he has joined forces with a small ruling elite in Khartoum that has oppressed and slaughtered its own people—and supported America’s most dangerous foes.
Results from Sudan’s electoral commission show that El-Bashir has received an impossible 88 to 94 percent of the popular vote in a country where he was directly responsible hundreds of thousands of deaths. Carter endorsed this and gave his imprimatur to an electoral farce. By claiming that the vote was “an opening” for citizens of Sudan to “participate and present their views,” the former U.S. president has demonstrated clearly that he is no friend to Sudan’s people.
Dr. Walid Phares and Khairi Abaza are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.