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Political horse-trading delays formation of Sudan's new government

Delegates at the signing of the agreement on national dialogue [thabombekifoundation]
Delegates at the signing of the agreement on national dialogue [thabombekifoundation]

Almost six weeks after the creation of a new prime ministerial position, political differences between the government and major opposition parties appear to be delaying the appointment of the ministerial cabinet, which is expected to form the Government of National Reconciliation.

On 3rd March, President Omar Al-Bashir announced the creation of the PM position and appointed his loyal colleague Bakr Hassan Saleh to the post, which had been a central demand of the opposition groups participating in the National Dialogue process.

The announcement was greeted with some enthusiasm but despite a series of meetings at the Council of Ministers, no official decision has been made about the appointments or when it is expected that they would be made.

Delays in decision-making are not uncommon in Sudan, but the inordinate deferral of a decision is now beginning to fuel speculation and rumours that some parties might withdraw their support for the process. A front-page headline in this morning's the Sudanese daily newspaper Al Mustaqila reads "The Popular Congress Party (PCP) threatens to pull out of the new government!"

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The news is being dismissed in some political circles but behind the headlines, further examination reveals that the PCP is threatening to derail the process if amendments guaranteeing the newly agreed freedoms are not added to the new constitution. The fear is once the new administration is up and running the government may decide to claw back some of the freedoms and set back the progress made.

Another sticking point is a demand that the government cut back on the authority and spending of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). In particular, PCP's leader Ali Al-Hajj wants to repeal the 2010 National Security Act which gives wide powers of arrest and detention for up to four and a half months without judicial review. In early January 2016, the Sudanese parliament passed a number of amendments to the 2005 interim constitution and the PCP insist that the changes restricting the intelligence service's function to the collection and analysis of information only should remain.

While the PCP says this issue is central to its contribution to the new government, another opposition leader Dr Ghazi Salaheldin Atabani, the head of the Reform Now Movement also expressed his support for changes guaranteeing greater freedoms. He said, "The ruling NCP has a chance to send a message to the international community in general and the Sudanese parties abstaining from the dialogue by accepting the outcomes of the dialogue and by making clear concessions to allow the upcoming government to be formed."

To add to the tensions and undercurrent of unease are the reports of resignations of members of the Democratic Union Party (DUP), led by Sudan's former president, Mohamed El Mighani. Differences emerged in the party about who should appear on the candidate lists to represent the DUP for possible positions in government. The rift has compounded the delay in choosing appointees as there remains no agreement on which DUP candidates should go forward. Reports suggest that the DUP, one of the larger opposition parties, who have backed the National Dialogue process from the outset are well placed to receive a number of appointments.

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As if that was not enough for the new Prime Minister General Bakri Hasan Saleh, sources speaking to an opposition website say the opposition parties are also unhappy with the split of 15 ministries that will remain under the direct control of the president. The Foreign Affairs, Works and Petroleum and the Defence ministries would be retained by Al-Bashir, while and the remaining 16 ministries will be directed by the prime minister.

It is unclear how soon the differences between the government and the opposition can be resolved. However, neither side wants to be seen as the cause of a breakdown that would prevent the appointment process from taking place or that might result in major parties pulling out of the process.

The success of the new government is seen as a vital part of easing pressure on Sudan who hopes that international sanctions imposed by the UN and United States on Sudan in 1997 and 2005 respectively will be removed in June this year.

One month ago, rapid progress towards establishing the new government was made. The armed opposition group released 237 soldiers and the government freed 125 to comply with the conditions of the National Dialogue; some of whom were on death row. The former prime minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi signalled a desire to join the process and the Liberal Democratic Party's Mayada Soar al-Dahab also signed the agreement last month.

In retrospect, the general expectation was that an inclusive National Government could be formed to achieve peace, stability and to reduce poverty; but amid the optimism was the concern that competing interests may yet push back any progress made. If nothing else, the failure to form a new cabinet after two weeks of horse-trading has eroded much of the initial optimism that greeted the creation of Sudan's new prime ministerial position.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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