- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2010

KHARTOUM, Sudan | Sudan’s main opposition parties have withdrawn from presidential elections, a senior member of one of the groups said Thursday, a move that could wreck the looming vote and damage a faltering peace process.

“On the level of the candidates of the presidency of the republic, most of [the opposition groups] decided to withdraw,” said Mohamed Zaki, head of office for Sadeq al-Mahdi, leader of the opposition Umma party.

Mr. Zaki said only five independents and representatives of smaller parties were still in the race against incumbent President Omar Bashir in the oil-producing state.

Mr. Zaki said there was still a chance the main opposition candidates would review their decision if the government agreed to an overhaul of the country’s National Elections Commission, and responded to their complaints of widespread fraud.

Sudan’s presidential and legislative elections, due in less than two weeks, are central to the implementation of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.

The Thursday announcement was issued a day after south Sudan’s leading party, the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, withdrew its candidate, Yasir Arman, from the presidential race, protesting against electoral irregularities and insecurity in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration flew into Khartoum after hearing about Mr. Arman’s withdrawal, his aides said, and spent Thursday holding crisis talks with government and opposition figures.

“The Americans are here to save the process,” said Mubarak al-Fadil, the presidential candidate for the breakaway Umma Renewal and Reform party, after meeting Mr. Gration.

Mr. al-Fadil said Mr. Gration was asking opposition groups to list their complaints about the election preparations and offering to mediate with the government and election officials. Mr. al-Fadil was one of the candidates who later withdrew, Mr. Zaki said.

Sudan’s Communist Party said it had decided to boycott all levels of the April elections. The Popular Congress Party announced its presidential candidate, Abdullah Deng Nhial, would stay in the race.

Analysts said Mr. Arman’s withdrawal effectively handed the presidential race to Lt. Gen. Bashir and could be part of a deal with Gen. Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) to guarantee a referendum in January 2011, also promised under the peace deal, on independence for the south.

But Mr. Arman denied any deal, saying there was no point in participating in the election, and that the NCP had already rigged it for Gen. Bashir to win.

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