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Is the 30-year rule of Sudan’s President Al-Bashir coming to an end?

February 24, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Sudan’s ousted President Omar Al-Bashir at the Khartoum International Airport on 25 October 2018 [Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images]

The decision to dissolve the government, the Council of Ministers and declare a state of emergency will come as little comfort for the hundreds of thousands of protestors who have demonstrated against the government for the past two months. Angry responses from protest groups on social media platforms vowed to continue the resistance until President Omar Al-Bashir steps down. However, Friday’s announcement gave the clearest signal yet that Al-Bashir intends to hang on to power at least in the short-term foreseeable future.

The imposition of military law will put soldiers on the streets, transfer the day-to-day running of the country to military officers and heavily curtail the movement and assembly of crowds in public spaces. Martial law gives the military sweeping powers of arrest, detention without trial and sequestration of property for offenders judged to be “threatening” national security.

It is also expected that a curfew with roadblocks in the major cities will mean the streets must fall quiet after 11 at night until just before the morning prayer. The government is depending on the loyalty of the military, some of whom have already been reluctant to take orders. Family members of one of Sudan’s top officers responsible for the arms depot in Omdurman told me that Major General Khalid Abdeen was arrested just hours before Al-Bashir’s national address. In addition to reports that 15 army officers have been recently detained, there are forecasts of mutinous behaviour within the rank and file of the armed forces.

Protests in Sudan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Protests in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

In contrast, the decision not to dissolve the national parliament has been warmly welcomed by internal opposition party participants in the 2014 National Dialogue process. The President pledged to implement the recommendations of the dialogue. This effectively strengthens the power of the National Assembly and the internal opposition, but the move has alienated the opposition outside that process including Sudan Call led by former Prime Minister, Al Sadiq El-Mahdi.  The group are demanding the U.S. and U.K. penalise Sudan for imposing the State of Emergency. However, with the announcement, the President also pledged not to act as a partisan leader of the ruling party but as a neutral Head of State. In practice, the National Assembly remains dominated by the president’s National Congress Party and Al-Bashir retains executive powers allowing him to veto legislation.

It is hoped that within a year the country can work out a political process that can bring about new ideas to solve economic problems and administrative malpractices. “By dissolving the council of ministers and the state assemblies Al-Bashir is trying to tackle the roots of corruption,” said political commentator Yasir Abdullah. “Going forward – fewer opportunities to embezzle money transferred from the treasury to the states will exist because money will be more tightly controlled.” Late Saturday, the President announced a Federal commission to tackle corruption, malpractices and embezzlement of state resources.

Whether or not Al-Bashir will see a new political process through to its conclusion remains to be seen. In the past few weeks a parliamentary committee tasked with changing article 27 of the constitution has repeatedly delayed plans to meet. On Friday, Al-Bashir directed the work of the committee to be postponed signaling that no changes would be made to constitution would made for the time being.  Many have interpreted this to mean that Al-Bashir will not seek reelection for a third term – an issue that has polarised his own party.

Read: Sudan’s Bashir declares state of emergency, dissolves government

Leading members of the party such as Amin Hassan Omer – former Presidential advisor – has publicly criticised plans for the President to stand again. That call appears to have been amplified in the past few weeks forcing some government ministers to describe the protestors as having “legitimate” grievances. The softer approach was a tacit admission of blame and the shortcomings of the government in contrast to the early days of the protests when the government blamed outside forces, agitators and traitors for instigating the uprising.

Ahead of the presidential address the Head of Intelligence Salah Abdullah Gosh was reported to say that the President had agreed not to run in 2020 and would leave office in a year’s time. He has since backtracked claiming that Bashir may not run for a new term under the current constitution “unless there is political consensus and procedures undertaken by pertinent bodies.” His comments fueling suspicions about Al-Bashir’s real intentions and leaving protestors and opponents uneasy.

If in fact, the end to Al-Bashir presidency is just a year away, there’s a chance that the animosity and condemnation of his 30-year rule could dissipate provided that a political programme of increased freedoms and reforms are pursued. Political commentator Yassir Abdullah says, “Describing himself as a national president instead of as a ruling party leader is important because it means that he is no longer restricted to following the wishes of his party.”  Abdullah adds, “By not pursing constructional changes, he is best placed to be seen as a man of people speaking out against injustices and malpractices.”

Nevertheless, fear and suspicion remain particularly among the peaceful and armed opposition forces that Al-Bashir is positioning himself to cancel elections in 2020, extend the state of emergency and hold on to power. Such a move would only increase the pressure on Al-Bashir and could lead to further bloodshed and deadly consequences.

One way or the other, Al-Bashir will find it very difficult to hold on to power or even to steer the country into a positive direction by the end of the year. For Al-Bashir to leave a favourable legacy, it entirely depends on whether he continues to hang on to power while restricting freedoms or introduces greater liberty and openness, prepares the way for free and fair elections and finally steps down from power.

Read: Sudan releases 2,400 protesters amid US condemnation of crackdown

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