Bashir heads toward widely expected victory with ‘empty ballot boxes’
KHARTOUM - Sudan on Wednesday extended nationwide elections by one day after a low turnout that the opposition said reflected apathy towards a vote President Omar al-Bashir is widely expected to win.
The 71-year-old career soldier, indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, is seeking to extend his quarter-century rule virtually unopposed.
He faces 15 little-known candidates for the presidency and a boycott by the mainstream opposition in the country of nearly 38 million people, the world's third most populous Arab state.
Since voting began on Monday, the elections for the presidency as well as the national and state parliaments have seen a poor turnout.
Polls had been due to close on Wednesday evening, but the National Electoral Commission announced they would stay open until Thursday in all districts.
"It is to allow Sudanese voters to choose their representatives in the national and state parliaments and the presidency of the republic," NEC chief Mokhtar al-Asam said at a press conference.
The opposition Umma Party, which is boycotting the vote, seized on the trickle of voters as a sign of disillusionment with the polls.
"It was expected the turnout would be like this, because it will bring no change," said its deputy head Maryam al-Mahdi.
"Bashir will sweep all the votes for the presidency. There is absolutely no competition in this election."
Bashir toppled a democratically elected government in an Islamist-backed coup and is Sudan's longest-serving leader since independence.
He won a 2010 presidential election overshadowed by an opposition boycott and criticised for failing to meet international standards.
In the hour after the sole polling centre on Khartoum's Tuti Island opened on Wednesday, just 15 residents came to cast their ballots, a correspondent said.
The centre's head, Muatasim Ahmed, said less than one quarter of the 8,158 voters registered there had voted, with attendance highest on the first day when the government declared a public holiday.
With little public enthusiasm for the vote, the NEC had already said polling would continue until 1400 GMT on Wednesday, one hour later than scheduled.
Outside the capital, the elections have been interrupted in nearly 160 centres by unrest and problems delivering voting material.
About 152 stations did not open on time in the central state of Jazira because of "administrative errors" in delivering ballot papers.
Late on Tuesday, the NEC announced it would extend voting across Jazira until Friday because of the disruption.
The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA-N) also attacked three stations in war-torn South Kordofan on Monday, shutting them down before being beaten back by the army.
They also fired rockets at the towns of Kadugli and Dilling on Tuesday, without any impact on voting, Asam said.
The SPLA-N has vowed to disrupt elections taking place across the state, as well as in Blue Nile, where it mounted a rebellion against Bashir's forces in 2011.
Rebels in the western region of Darfur, which has been plagued by conflict since 2003, had said they would do the same.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
Police broke up a student protest in North Darfur state capital El Fasher on Tuesday morning, the UN-AU peacekeeping mission in the region said.
"About 200 students of El Fasher university staged a demonstration in the campus and its vicinity,"
The "police fired warning shots into the air to control and disperse the demonstrators".
The presidential ballot could theoretically go to a second round if one candidate does not gain an outright majority, with the results due in late April.