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The Parliamentary Election of1986: Fatally Flawed? Ann M. Lesch Villanova University Parliamentary elections were held in the Sudan in April 1986 in order to inaugurate a new, democratic political system after 16 years of autocratic rule. In the euphoria following the intifada (uprising) that overthrewJa 'far Nimeiri in April 1985, many Sudanese and foreign analysts hoped that free elections would lead to the formation of a legitimate government that would chart a fresh course and would tackle the deepset political and economic problems that bedeviled the country. They tended to underestimate the difficulty of creating a constitutional system ; the resilience of long-standing political forces that had their own, often conflicting, aims and ambitions; the depth of the polarization within the country on fundamental constitutional issues; and the risk that the government formed by a parliamentary system would enhance tendencies toward immobility rather than take decisive action to address the multiple crises. This article cannot address all aspects of those issues. That will be encompassed in a larger study of which this is a part. Rather, it will focus on the electoral system, the elections themselves, and the immediate outcome of the elections. The latter includes the degree to which relevant groups and interests were represented in the elected parliament and the ways in which the election outcome shaped the process of forming a government. Finally, lessons—or cautions—will be drawn from the analysis of the elections in order to point to the problems that were apparent as soon as the elected government was formed, problems that hampered the functioning of the newly created political system.® Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 1, Nos. 2-3 (New Series) 1994, pp. 129-157 129 130 Ann M. Lesch The Electoral Process The constitution for the transitional period, signed by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) on 10 October 1985, specified that authority would be handed over to an elected government by 25 April 1986. That meant that elections for the constituent assembly would be held in April. The assembly's first act would be to elect a five-person Supreme Council, which would serve as the sovereign body and ceremonial head of state, and then to elect a Prime Minister. Later, the assembly would draft and adopt a permanent constitution, at which time it would transform itself into a parliament. The assembly's term would last four years, until April 1990. The TMC, cabinet, and political forces conducted lengthy discussions about the form of representation appropriate for the constituent assembly . The Alliance wanted special seats allocated for the "modern forces"—members of trade unions, professional groups, farmers' societies , and women. Its members argued that those forces had played important roles in the uprising and needed to ensure the preservation of their gains through guaranteed representation. Others argued that the definition of "modern forces" was too wide and should be confined to graduates of universities and post-secondary technical and teacher training institutes. Since the adult public was still 80 percent illiterate, they maintained, it was appropriate to accord special rights to the besteducated persons in the country. In fact, in the 1950s, five seats were set aside for such graduates and, in 1965, eleven seats were aUotted. The transitional government finally decided to reserve 28 seats for graduates out of a total of 301 seats. There were 264 geographic constituencies . However, it was impossible to conduct elections in 37 constituencies in the south, where fighting was most intense. The vote in each constituency was to be winner-take-all, based on plurality rather than proportional representation. In a situation in which two dozen political parties were competing for support, that system might lead to the winner having a relatively small vote and a narrow margin of victory. Voter registration took place between 18 January and 23 February. Candidates were nominated in the first half of March. Some 1,400 candidates stood for election and six million voters registered. That represented a significant percent of the adult voters in a country of approxi- The Parliamentary Election of1986: Fatally Flawed? 131 mately 22 million persons and also in situation a in which registration was impossible in more than half of the south...


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