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SPLM Leaders arrested in Sudan!
SPLM Leaders arrested in Sudan
The unrest provoked by the arrest of key SPLM leaders threatens the drive to promote Sudanese national unity, writes Gamal Nkrumah
Demonstrators took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum and other major cities after Secretary-General of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) Pagan Amum and his deputy Yasir Arman were arrested on Sunday.
Amum and Arman joined opposition leaders in staging a demonstration against electoral laws in Sudan. The Sudanese authorities promptly declared the rally illegal. The vital oil installations in the south of the country were threatened and the authorities in Southern Sudan stepped up security in and around oilfields.
The spontaneous eruption of civil disturbances look chillingly like the beginnings of an all-out war for the political future of Sudan, which is in real danger of failing as a state.
It is far too soon to say that the worst of the unrest is now over. The Sudanese government of national unity is still desperately weak and fragile, but it will most likely struggle for months until elections are held early next year.
Monday was the final day for voters to register for the upcoming elections -- the first presidential, parliamentary and local elections to be held in Sudan in 24 years. The elections, tentatively scheduled for April 2010 are widely viewed as a litmus test for the popularity of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP). The offices of the NCP in southern Sudan were torched and rioting sparked off in the major southern Sudanese urban centres.
In despair at the receding chances of getting electoral reforms promulgated before next April's general elections, and bitterly disappointed at the Sudanese government's failure to force the issue with President Al-Bashir and his NCP, the Sudanese opposition parties and the SPLM are taking matters into their own hands.
Ominously, the SPLM and the NCP have failed to agree on changes in the electoral law. The NCP sees no reason to reform the current electoral laws, promising that the forthcoming elections will be free and fair. Opposition parties in Sudan are demanding radical electoral reforms. The Sudanese opposition is highly dependent on the political support and backing of the SPLM. The NCP, in turn, views the SPLM suspiciously as a fifth column working in tandem with the opposition to undermine the credibility of the NCP. The SPLM has joined northern opposition parties in decrying the deplorable state of electoral laws in Sudan.
The SPLM's gesture has some narrow political merit. It allows the party to be seen by the Sudanese masses almost as an opposition party even though it is the main partner of the NCP in the government of national unity. As far as the secularist forces in Sudan are concerned, Al-Bashir and his NCP are on the wrong side of the argument, as his coalition partners, the SPLM, must tell him.
There is a broader issue, too. Coalition government is about joint responsibility. The problem is that the NCP and the SPLM are at odds ideologically. The NCP is Islamist in orientation. The SPLM, on the other hand, are diehard secularists. They are committed to the total separation of religion from state and the judiciary, two pillars of faith as far as the NCP is concerned.
A referendum on whether southern Sudan should secede is due in 2011. The tragedy is that the culmination of NCP intransigence over prickly issues such as electoral reform and upholding Islamic Sharia as the ultimate determinant in the political establishment of Sudan would jeopardise the chances of Sudan remaining a unified state. It would also make such issues a more complex campaign concern for the ideological rivals. The two parties are at loggerheads over several key issues. Moreover, the constituencies the two parties represent are growing politically far apart.
The people of the marginalised areas of southern, western and eastern Sudan feel disfranchised. Unless their hunger for political participation in the decision-making process is satisfied, the country's future could be bleak, indeed.
So sensitive is the subject of religion in Sudan, that the Islamic Sharia laws are revered by the ruling clique in Khartoum and protected by draconian lese-majeste laws. The SPLM and the main opposition parties in northern Sudan want to dispose of this outdated political and legal dispensation. They also, given Al-Bashir's military background, insist that the army must stay out of politics, however tempting it may be to intervene in the cause of political stability. Electoral reform, the opposition and the SPLM argue, needs to happen before the April elections if Sudan is not to descend into chaos as many predict.
This would not be easy even if the NCP and the SPLM were acting as one. Uncertainty would create a dangerous political vacuum. This is why Al-Bashir contends that a strong central government under the leadership of the NCP is prerequisite.
Sudan's bellicose political forces must end the deleterious stand-off between supporters of the SPLM and those of the NCP which represents the status quo.
The estrangement of the two main government coalition partners has manifested itself in violent clashes. The best thing the Sudanese government must do to salvage something of its tarnished image abroad is to prepare for free and fair elections in April 2010. The NCP must also be prepared to abide by the results of the elections, come what may.
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