Will Bashir talks lead to fair elections in Sudan?

Saturday January 10 2015

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. PHOTO | FILE

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has been sending mixed signals as the country approaches elections in April, the first after the secession of the South in 2011.

President Bashir — who has already been nominated by his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) to contest the presidential election in April — gained local and international goodwill when he launched the national dialogue for political and economic reforms in January 2014. He invited the opposition and the rebel groups to join the dialogue to discuss peace and democratic reforms in the country. 

However, by the end of last year, President Bashir had arrested and detained scores of opposition activists, raising questions about the democratic space in the country he has ruled for 26 years.

READ: Khartoum detains opposition activists

The dialogue is ongoing, but the rebels in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as the biggest opposition party, the National Umma Party (NUP) headed by al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, have stayed away from the talks.

Baibiker Eltayeb Ahmed, the press consul at the embassy of Sudan in Nairobi, said that the president aims to bring in economic reforms to uplift marginalised regions in Sudan, allow free political association and bring an end to rebellions in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.


“The national dialogue has been progressing with over 83 parties participating. Currently,  the 7+7  National Dialogue Committee, made up of the government and opposition representatives, is working on the roadmap in regards to the economy, security arrangements and the freeing of the political space,” said Mr Ahmed.

Experts on Sudan say President Bashir initiated the national dialogue to ease international pressure over his style of ruling, given that the country is still grappling with recession after South Sudan seceded, sanctions were imposed by key development partners such as the United States, and a warrant of arrest was issued — which has since been withdrawn — by the International Criminal Court.

Aly Verjee, a senior researcher with the Rift Valley Institute, told The EastAfrican that President Bashir wants to secure his future because he doesn’t see himself as a president for life.

Mr Verjee said President Bashir needs to strike a balance between hardliners and moderates within his NCP party, and that the outcome of the national dialogue will depend who has the most influence on the president.

“This is not the first NCP dalliance with the opposition. But until something concrete is agreed and implemented, I am sceptical that this latest overture to the opposition represents a significant shift,” said Mr Verjee.

The challenge for President Bashir now is whether the elections in April will be judged as credible, given that the opposition parties have refused to participate on the grounds that NCP has absolute control over the electoral machinery.

They have instead proposed a transitional government that will hold a national conference to discuss a peaceful solution for the conflict in Darfur region, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states.

The National Election Commission (NEC) has set January 11 to 17 for presidential candidates to present their papers; each party nominating a candidate must submit a list of 15,000 registered voters from 12 states endorsing their candidacy.

The African Union will deploy an election observation mission to Sudan for the elections, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, with the advance team expected to visit Sudan this month.

But the dialogue is threatened by the government’s continued crackdown of the opposition. In May, President Bashir detained former Sudanese prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, forcing his NUP to withdraw from the national dialogue.

In December, President Bashir detained human rights campaigner Amin Mekki Medai and National Consensus Forum head Farouk Ab Issa, after they signed the “Sudan Call” agreement in Addis Ababa, calling for an end to the war, dismantling of the one-party state, and the formation of a transitional government.

Also opposed to the dialogue is the Reform Now Movement (RNM) led by former presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Eddin Attabani. The NCP is buoyed by the decision of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), led by Hassan al-Turabi, to continue participating in the talks. 

Al-Turabi parted ways with President Bashir despite being the mastermind of the 1989 coup that removed then prime minister Mr Mahdi.

The PCP official position is that dialogue is the only way to avoid an Arab Spring-like revolution.

According to Jervasio Okot, a South Sudan political analyst, the national dialogue is about appeasing the world, saying that President Bashir changes position depending on the circumstances.

“When South Sudan was voting in the referendum, he gave the impression that he respected the right of the people to self-determination. But when South Sudan went to war with itself, he started boasting that he had warned the world that South Sudanese are tribal and were likely to create another Somalia in the region,” said Mr Okot.