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Sudan: the prime minister's resignation leaves a dangerous political vacuum

Sudanese anti-coup protesters carry the portrait of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ousted by the military, during a gathering in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on 30 October 2021, to express their support for the country's democratic transition which a military takeover and deadly crackdown derailed. [AFP via Getty Images]
Sudanese anti-coup protesters carry the portrait of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ousted by the military, during a gathering in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on 30 October 2021, to express their support for the country's democratic transition which a military takeover and deadly crackdown derailed. [AFP via Getty Images]

The decision by Sudan's Prime Minister, Abdulla Hamdok, to resign just six weeks after he was reinstalled in the job leaves a dangerous political vacuum that looks like it will be extremely difficult to fill. Even if a successor is found quickly, the people of Sudan are unlikely to accept anyone who appears to have the backing of the military.

In a televised address, Hamdok said that the country is at a "dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival." He added that he had tried his best to stop the country from "sliding towards disaster," but that "despite everything that has been done to reach a consensus… it has not happened."

Sudan protests and Prime Minister resigns - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Sudan protests and Prime Minister resigns – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The return of the prime minister to office did not surprise Sudan's army generals, because the objective behind his removal in the first place was to sideline the Forces of Freedom and Change movement whose leftist communist elements were — in the view of some, especially in the Gulf — an obstacle to the "smooth running" of Sudan. However, the military coup on 25 October resulted in two unexpected outcomes: Hamdok completely lost the confidence of the Sudanese people, who were quick to call him a "traitor"; and the signatories of the Juba agreement were unwilling to step down from the government.

The concerted efforts of mainly 15 to 30 year old protesters mobilised people on the streets and swung public opinion against the army. Refusing to be supported openly by any political party, the young protest groups are well organised and able to maximise protester numbers while minimising casualties. Nevertheless, at least 57 people have been killed since the protests resumed on 25 October.

The army was hoping that the demonstrations would have been dissipated by the appointment of a technocrat government. They were banking on the creation of an independent government, and to some extent the international community would be willing to return international aid if it appeared that the prime minister was firmly in control. However, the consistent pressure and protests resulting in loss of life and security concerns undermined the central declared reason for the prime minister's return to office, "to stop the bloodshed".

READ: Arab Islamists and their ambiguity towards events in Sudan

Equally, the determination of the ex-militia forces who had signed the Juba agreement made it abundantly clear that they would not relinquish the political appointments that they had been given after signing the peace agreement. Speaking on a local television channel, signatory and Governor of Darfur Mina Arko Minawi said in November, "If our partnership with the military component ends, it will be an all-out war."

Added to this disagreement was the lack of support that the army generals — particularly the Deputy President of the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — had for the return of an independent government. The President of the Sovereign Council, Abdul Fatah Al-Burhan, essentially became a bystander in the negotiations, unable to support publicly the position of the prime minister who wanted the installation of a complete technocrat government as agreed. Al-Burhan felt that supporting Hamdok would jeopardise the peace agreement.

Following Hamdok's resignation, there are calls for the reinstallation of the constitutional agreement and for the appointment of an international mediator, something alluded to by the premier in his resignation speech.

"It's time for the deployment of an international mediator who can do the job Hamdok was incapable of — finding political compromise between the military, the street and the FFC, to rewrite a roadmap for going forward," said Cameron Hudson, a former US State Department official now at the Atlantic Council's Africa Centre.

Analysts have said that the controversial agreement would have been "an intermediate stage that allows avoiding the worst effects of the coup." According to Dr Suliman Baldo, a US-based Sudanese analyst of African affairs and a specialist in conflict areas, such effects include "bloodshed, international isolation and Sudan's return to its former pariah status in the international community." He made his comment in an interview with Radio Dabanga last month.

Baldo believes that the Burhan-Hamdok agreement had a very specific mission conditional on the civilian Council of Ministers enjoying full executive powers according to what is stipulated in this framework. Any chance of the resumption of international support depended on Hamdok not giving legitimacy to the military coup by having an independent technocrat cabinet.

READ: The Sudanese Army's attempts to renegotiate a deal with civil society is unlikely to succeed

The official acceptance of the prime minister's resignation will put to rest continued speculation that the international community may intervene once again to reinstate him. However, it seems likely that a caretaker in the shape of the finance minister may be appointed to oversee the 2022 budget which has not yet been agreed prior to the appointment of a new prime minister.

Analysts have suggested that Buthaina Ibrahim Dinar of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement might be nominated as prime minister. Other names in the hat include Kamil Eltayeb Idris, a Sudanese statesman, scholar and international civil servant, who was the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation from November 1997 to 2008 and is well known in international circles.

At the time of writing, there is speculation that African statesmen such as President Paul Kagami of Rwanda may be called on to bridge to gap in negotiations. It seems clear that without a breakthrough resulting in the appointment of an independent cabinet with unrestricted powers, an internationally-accepted prime minister to drive forward democracy in Sudan might never be found.

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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