Results for Sudan’s parliamentary and presidential elections, held between April 13 and 15 and extended for a further day after low voter turnout, will be announced on April 27. Yet no one doubts the return to government of President Omer al-Bashir and his National Congress Party.
The elections were Bashir’s latest endeavour to provide a democratic facade to his corrupt and brutal rule. Bashir, who came to the presidency in 1989 on the back of an Islamist-led coup, is seeking to maintain his grip on power. He faces divisions within his corruption-riddled government, an increasingly desperate economic situation and continued political and armed resistance to his rule by newly united opposition forces.
Bashir’s indictment in the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in Darfur also casts a shadow over his future. It makes it hard for him to travel overseas for fear his arrest warrant may be executed.
Bashir’s increasingly desperate strategy has included purging his government of elements calling for even a minimal democratic transition, pragmatic shifting of international alliances (the latest being supporting the Saudi-led war against the Houthis in Yemen), and fake displays of democracy such as the elections. All the while, his regime continues to violently suppress dissent.
Opposition forces, who boycotted the elections, announced at an April 19 meeting in Khartoum that they would not recognise the result nor the government. Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) leader Siddiq Yousif told Radio Dabanga: “Though the National Election Commission announced that the voter turnout was more than 30%, we all know that it was less than 10% in reality.”
In a joint statement before the elections, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) and the International Federation for Human Rights warned: “There is no prospect of open, transparent free or fair elections in Sudan whilst independent civil society groups, human rights defenders, political activists and journalists are at such a high risk of arbitrary detention for voicing dissenting views and whilst conflict rages in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.”
An April 17 statement by the ACJPS documented extensive violence, censorship, arrests and disappearances of opposition activists during the elections by security forces throughout Sudan.
Protesters in Port Sudan in the north, including election candidates, were arrested on April 15 after trying to stop a large group of police, prison guards and firefighters from entering a district where they were not registered to vote. The protesters, who were tear gassed, accused the government of bussing in outsiders to rig the vote.
In Khartoum, activist Dr Sandra Farouk Kadouda was forcibly removed from her car while driving to an opposition sit-in against the election. Her whereabouts were unknown until she was dumped, badly beaten with a dislocated shoulder, on a Khartoum street three days later.
On April 20, Kadouda’s mother, Dr Asmaa al Sunni, filed a complaint at the headquarters of the National Intelligence and Security Forces (NISS) about her arrest and treatment.
Shortly after, Kadouda’s home was raided. A group of nine security officers detained Dr Jalaledin Mustafa of the Committee in Solidarity with Victims of the September Demonstrations, who had accompanied al Sunni to make the complaint.
The same day, Kadouda was arrested again and charged with making a false accusation against NISS, who deny the original kidnapping. She was released on bail.
NISS also seized copies of the April 20 edition of the daily Al Sudani newspaper after it published an article on Kadouda’s detention.
On April 14, police raided a public forum on the boycott campaign at El Fashir University in North Darfur, arresting 29 students. On April 19, Nasreldin Mukhtar, Deupty Head of the General Darfur Students Association, was detained in Omdurman.
Darfur Students Association representative Kamal Ahmed Zein told Radio Dabanga that this was part of the “systematic targeting of Darfuri students and activists”.
During the new round of arrests, activists also discovered a group of 19 people detained in Darfur almost a year ago who are being held in Kober prison in North Khartoum without charge.
Despite ongoing repression, Sudan’s diverse opposition has achieved a new level of unity after the signing of the “Sudan Call” in Addis Ababa on December 3. Historically, opposition to the NCP regime has been undermined by divisions, a fact exploited by the ruling party.
For the first time, the Sudan Call unites armed rebel groups, opposition parties and civil society groups around the common goal of working to “dismantle the one-party state regime and replace it with a state founded on equal citizenship, through daily popular struggle, including popular uprising”.
Signatories include the Sudan Revolutionary Forces, the rebel alliance of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which leads the resistance to the military offensives in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and Darfur rebel groups.
Also signed on are the National Consensus Forces (NCF, an alliance of opposition parties including the SCP), the National Umma Party, and the Alliance of Sudanese Civil Society Organisations.
The Sudan Call acknowledges the divisions and marginalisation engineered by the regime. This includes imposing “a single identity”, subjecting “certain ethnic groups to genocide”, waging wars and displacing millions.
The resolution stressed that a new Sudan must be founded on equal rights for all Sudanese.
The call highlights the significant role of youth in any genuine process of change. The document pledges to work towards the participation of young people and women in the struggle and its leadership. The signatories undertake to “transform Sudan Call into a grassroots resistance movement that unifies all Sudanese”.
Dialogue and distraction
The agreement stipulated five preconditions for an all-inclusive dialogue towards a comprehensive political solution to the country’s problems: An end to the armed conflicts; the release of all political prisoners; an end to laws undermining freedom and human rights; the formation of a transitional government to oversee the process; and an agreed administration to facilitate the dialogue.
The NCP regime responded by announcing a “National Dialogue”, however it failed to attend a preparatory meeting facilitated by the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in March. The regime has long used the tactic of fake consultations and negotiations to undermine the opposition and put on a show for the international community.
SPLM-N secretary-general Yasir Arman condemned Bashir’s notorious attempts “to keep the status quo by engaging the opposition in non-stop negotiations, which are fruitless and only aim to achieve a piece-meal solution”.
Not only were none of the Sudan Call preconditions for dialogue met, but the wars in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur were escalated (an estimated 100,000 people have been newly displaced in Darfur since the beginning of this year).
There have also been continual arrests and arbitrary detentions of opposition figures. Sudan Call signatories Farah El Agar from the SPLM-N, NCF chairperson Farooq Abu Issa and Civil Society Initiative chairperson Amin Mekiki Medani were arrested on December 6 after signing the Sudan Call. They were detained for almost four months before their release on the eve of the election.
Restrictions on free speech were also tightened, with increased media censorship. The entire print runs of 14 newspapers were confiscated by NISS on a single day in February.
The African Union drew criticism for providing critical support to the national elections. On the other hand, the “Sudan Troika” (the US, Britain and Norway) issued a statement on April 20 expressing “regret” at the Sudanese government’s “failure to create a free, fair, and conducive elections environment”.
But the two-paragraph statement also said: “We condemn the acts of violence during the election period and continue to support those Sudanese who wish to peacefully advance a comprehensive and legitimate political process of dialogue …”
This statement, a denunciation of the SPLM-N’s armed disruption of polling in South Kordofan and Blue Nile state, is in line with Western governments’ tendency to place equal blame for the wars in various parts of Sudan on the military onslaughts and the people resisting them.
The West's bid to encourage the opposition to play along with the official game of pretend consultation also highlights its lack of serious pressure on the regime. This comes from the importance of Bashir’s rule to US strategic interests in the region.
In an April 20 statement, Arman said Sudan’s solutions will come from within. He described the election boycott as “a vote of no confidence in the regime” and “a vote for change”.
He said the only way out of Sudan’s misery is “through ending wars and corruption through democratic transformation, especially as more than 70% of the budget is being used for war and security, and less than two percent is being used for health and education”.
Arman stressed that the unity of opposition forces represents the way forward for a popular uprising.
At an April 19 press conference, representatives of the Sudan Call declared that after the successful election boycott, they would step up their campaign to overthrow the regime.