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Sudan and the curse of transitional periods

KHARTOUM, SUDAN - FEBRUARY 8: Prime minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok announces major Cabinet reshuffle during a news conference on February 8, 2021 in Khartoum, Sudan. Prime Minister Hamdok said the new Cabinet will focus on economic reforms, peace-building, a balanced foreign policy, restructuring of civilian and military entities, and justice for the victims of civil wars in the country. ( Mahmoud Hjaj - Anadolu Agency )
Prime minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok in Khartoum, Sudan on 8 February 2021 in Khartoum, Sudan [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]

Immediately after Sudan's Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, launched his initiative under the heading of "National Crisis and Issues of Transition: The Way Forward", we the people declared our support for it, and called for it to be dealt with positively. It needs the effort to ensure its success, not negativity and criticism without suggesting alternatives.

In this regard, we presented a set of eight proposals. Perhaps they will help to motivate the executive, led by the prime minister, to transform the initiative into a tight, scheduled, and practical programme with a specific timeline.

The initiative was launched six weeks ago, but nothing tangible has resulted so far. If this continues, I fear that the initiative will go unheeded. All indications point to this unless things change. The transitional departments are performing below par, and work is piling up. Tasks to be done during the transitional period remain undone and confined to the constitutional document; quarrels between political groups continue, and accusations of treason abound. The initiative looks bound to end in failure.

At the moment, partisan rather than state interests set the standard. There is a reluctance to form the commissions entrusted with restoring the state hijacked by the deposed regime and to ensure the non-partisanship of all state agencies, both civil and military. We must also ensure their effectiveness and efficiency. There is a strange indifference towards the formation of independent national commissions to lay the foundations for peace, consolidate democratic transformation and promote the rule of law. We need to convene the National Constitutional Conference that is charged with rebuilding the state of Sudan based on consensus and respect for pluralism and diversity.

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There is also a need for the government to adopt some seriousness and speed to deal with regional demands. Tension has to be reduced, especially in eastern Sudan.

Furthermore, if the economic situation continues to deteriorate and the already outrageous prices increase, even more, pushing the people into poverty, the transitional period is at risk of faltering. This is especially so if we do not immediately begin the discussion about which electoral system we want, and how a democratic system suitable for our country can work. The expected scenario, some of which we have already seen and heard, includes calls for early elections before the end of the transitional period.

If this happens, the people will go to the polls without adequate preparation to elect weakened and exhausted political parties. The resultant system will carry within it the seeds of failure, like the rest of the elected regimes in the previous transition periods. This vicious cycle will continue, but the outcome will not only be a repressive dictatorship but also probably a civil war and the fragmentation of Sudan.

The responsibility for this will be borne by the leaders of the transitional period in the Sovereignty Council, the Council of Ministers, and the Transitional Partners Council, as well as the political bases. The curse will continue to haunt them.

Early elections could have been a reasonable way out of the crisis we are experiencing if the independent national commissions had been formed and completed their work. It wasn't necessary for all the commissions to have been in place, but at the very least we should have seen the commissions reform the peace, justice, and legal system, transitional justice, National Constitutional Conference, and, of course, the election commission.

With none of them up and running, we are looking at a failed experiment. It will basically mean the destruction of the transitional period, the essence of which is consensus among different political and ideological groups about a project that paves the way for breaking the vicious cycle and putting Sudan on the new foundation of a modern nation-state. This project cannot be accomplished by a party or coalition of parties; it is the task of everyone, and it advances from the premise that a homeland is not built with the ideology of this or that bloc or party. However, I suggest that we move immediately to formulate the necessary laws and measures to organise the election of local government councils. In addition to their direct dealings with citizens' livelihood issues, these councils can play a supervisory role, even towards the national government and the various transitional agencies.

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Moreover, election to these councils will depend on the voters' direct knowledge of the candidates rather than through their party, and voters will vote for the candidate best able to serve them, based on close experience in the neighbourhood, regardless of party affiliation. In short, it is a basic exercise in building a democratic transition from the bottom up, which can generate ideas that help determine which electoral systems are best for Sudan. It will also help us avoid the lazy mistake of copying and pasting successful electoral systems that may have been appropriate for other countries, like Britain's, for example, but do not fit with our reality and continue to fail. It is always met with a disastrous alternative, as was the case during previous transition periods.

Sudan's situation today cannot bear plots between the various political groups, just as it cannot bear yet more experimental policies. We are facing two options: we either embark now with determination and seriousness to complete the tasks of the transition, or we drown. Those wanting to forge ahead must come together and forget their political and intellectual differences, and agree on how to save the nation. This is a task that cannot be achieved by one person or group, or an alliance of factions, just as it cannot be achieved by the political elites alone. It is the task of the people, parties, politicians, technocrats, civil society, military personnel, and national figures — everyone — to take on their role and responsibility. Nobody can be excluded, and narrow partisan or group affiliations cannot be allowed to prevail at the expense of the homeland.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 8 August 2021

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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