This week’s cabinet decision to put forward a new election law appears to support the view that some members of Sudan’s National Congress (NCP) ruling party are planning to ensure that President Omer Al-Bashir will run for a third term in office, will win the forthcoming election in 2020 and possibly will remain in office for the rest of his life.
The law has prompted cries of indignation with one of the most prominent opposition groups, the Popular National Congress (PNC), threatening to pull out of the coalition government if the new election proposals becomes law. The main objection is there was no consultation with the opposition parties as required under the provision of the National Dialogue process. Nevertheless, the President’s supporters in the NCP are being accused of provoking opposition groups into staying out of the Presidential race leaving the way clear for Al-Bashir to be elected, perhaps unchallenged.
Separately, his supporters cite domestic reasons why the President will extend his term and stay in power. The plain fact is Al-Bashir remains politically popular even after almost 30-years of rule now culminating in the fight to bring the country out of its worst-ever economic crisis. Al-Bashir’s strong championing of Sudanese values and traditions, his recently declared “War on Corruption” and his defence of Sudanese national interests on the world stage has his adversaries and allies alike saying positive things about a leader who has, over the years, presided over periods of political turmoil and well as sustained periods of booming economic prosperity.
Moreover, there is a sense of admiration for what his supporter say is Al-Bashir’s “brave and tenacious” defiance of the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Al-Bashir continues to travel outside Sudan attending international gatherings and Presidential summits undeterred by the ICC accusations of war crimes against him. But make no mistake – Al-Bashir’s critics inside Sudan which now includes some from within his own party and his opponents outside the country sense that the National Government of Reconciliation’s united stance and its ability to function as a unified government is now under serious question and the opposition forces continue to employ all means possible to weaken his hold on power.
When I visited Mahmoud Abdeen Salih – an opponent of the government – I am surprised to hear him say, “I support Al-Bashir bid to change the constitution and run for a third term.” When asked why, “Because he’s presided over the years of corruption and so only knows how to fix it; another new unknown leader might bring a new wave of corruption!”
Salih is a veteran politician, head of his own political party and a participant in the 2014 National Dialogue process. He is no fan of the current Islamic movement who he accuses of betraying the local councils – “Lejna Shaabia” – political system that Abdeen takes personal credit for introducing the idea to the Islamic visionary Hassan Abdullah Al-Turabi; the then powerful speaker of the National Assembly and de-facto head of the ruling National Salvation government before differences appeared in the Islamic movement.
“In 1999, when the (Islamic) movement split this country changed for the worse. At that time, there was no war is Darfur, no armed conflicts in the Nuba mountains or disputes in the Blue Nile, that’s because we had 17,413 local councils with real representatives working together to resolve local and national issues,” Abdeen says proudly. “This country was change to governance by the elites the ruling party and the popular participation was derailed.”
In contrast, supporters and key figures in the ruling party, like Dr Hamdan Osman Hamdan, the Head of the NCP’s Information Analysis Department, are adamant that there cannot be an alternative to Al-Bashir, “The President is the guarantor of Sudan’s future prosperity. He represents the only sure way for the provision of the national dialogue to be achieved. Without him the process dies and the great strides towards political reforms will be destroyed.”
Hamdan is responsible for overseeing the introduction of the new electronic electoral system whereby national identity cards will be used to cast and register votes. He and other NCP members are supporting the constitutional changes required to amend Article 20-20 to allow the President to run for a third term.
In the week that the ICC decides on whether to refer the Kingdom of Jordon to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for not arresting Al-Bashir at the Arab League Submit in 29 March 2017. The supporters of the Sudan’s President within the Ruling National Congress Party take comfort that Jordan, like many countries before it, refused to execute the ICC’s arrest warrants against a sitting president and international organisations like the African Union have asked for the warrant to be set aside.
Such is the importance of the stance taken by Jordan and others, in an unprecedented step, the ICC is seeking submission from the African Union, the European Union and the Arab League among others to assess whether the arrest warrants against sitting presidents have any legal validity. However, NCP supporters are equally aware that if the warrants are not set aside the President’s best chance of avoiding the ‘unjustified’ charge of the court is to remain in office.
In a response to my questions about the validity of the arrest warrant after President Al-Bashir steps down from office, the ICC’s Public Affairs office replied, “Yes. At the ICC, arrest warrants remain valid, unless the ICC Judges decide otherwise, for example after confirmation of a suspect’s death or upon a specific request.”
There are no firm indications that the process of making changes to the constitution which will allow the 72-year-old Al Bashir to run for another term and perhaps even past 2025 is being specifically driven by the threat of the ICC’s arrest warrant hanging over him. However, in response to enquiries on this issue, one politician told me, “I know the President personally, he has a singled minded approach, his ambition when he became a soldier was to be Head of the Army and to serve this nation. That ambition has not changed!”
Nevertheless, claims of Al-Bashir being unperturbed and despite Sudan not being signatories to the Rome Statue which established the ICC, the ramifications of the ICC’s latest judgement concerning warrants against sitting presidents appears, in one way or another, likely to influence Al-Bashir’s political future. Undoubtedly, the coming weeks and months are to be some of the most difficult days of the Al-Bashir’s presidency as he wrestles with the economic situation and attempts to hold together the coalition government ahead of the 2020 elections.