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Sudan’s elections brinkmanship – can the opposition unite?

April 1, 2010


In a shock unilateral announcement, the leading south Sudanese party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and said it would also boycott elections on all levels in  Darfur.

It paved the way for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to win the April 11-18 polls. Arman was viewed as his main challenger, with much of south Sudan’s support – about 25 percent of the 16-million strong electorate.

Some in the opposition initially reacted with anger or surprise, because the SPLM had agreed to form a joint position on a likely full boycott of elections in the north with them a day later. But as the decision sank in, the realization is that the ball is now firmly in their court.

The credibility of the elections is hanging in the balance.

But the big question on everyone’s lips is: Will the opposition be able to unite on a joint position ahead of the polls, which are due to begin in just 10 days?

Many Sudanese complain the weak and divided opposition offer little alternative to Bashir’s party.

The opposition threatened to boycott the polls if laws enshrining democracy were passed, but did not.

They threatened to field joint candidates for parliamentary and gubernatorial elections against Bashir’s National Congress Party, but did not.

A headline in a Sudanese daily this week said it all after a joint call by the opposition for a financial and administrative audit of the National Elections Commission they accuse of bias towards the NCP: “Sudan’s opposition threatens to form a common position.”

On Thursday the opposition have what is probably their final opportunity to make a joint move and prove their critics wrong.

The SPLM announced their decision unilaterally to distance themselves from the opposition and appease the NCP. The NCP had threatened not to hold a referendum on secession for south Sudan if the SPLM, in solidarity with the opposition, committed itself to a full boycott of the April 11 polls in north Sudan.

The opposition meeting on Thursday night will be key, as those who favour taking the same position as the SPLM to undermine the presidential elections will have to convince those who feel betrayed by the SPLM and want to challenge the president at the ballot box.

But few Sudanese in Khartoum have expressed optimism they will unite.

And some Sudanese say even if the opposition did unite, they would still vote for Bashir.

Bashir has presided over a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur which resulted in the International Criminal Court indicting him for war crimes last year.

But many voices say he has also signed three peace deals to end regional conflicts, bringing in millions of dollars of foreign investment which has allowed roads, electricity plants and other infrastructure to be built in the war-torn country.

Others say they dislike him, but that he and his party have already “eaten their full” so the corruption has leveled off, allowing some development to take place.

They say a new government from any other party would need to “fill their belly,” which many fear would leave little of Sudan’s oil revenues to continue developing the country.

Whatever happens. It is now clear is that Bashir, after 21 years ruling the country, is almost certain to rule for at least another four years.

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