Challenges facing Bashir as frontrunner in Sudan's presidential elections

Mariam Mecky , Monday 13 Apr 2015

Omar Al-Bashir told The Washington Post recently he wants to be president for life. But while few contenders measure up to his power domestically, he is isolated and faces challenges that could yet lead to his downfall

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir prepares to cast his ballot as he runs for another term, on the first day of presidential and legislative elections, in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, April 13, 2015 (Photo: AP)

When asked last year if he wants to be the Sudanese president for life, Omar Al-Bashir's answer to The Washington Post was "of course," citing problems and challenges that he believes would fend off anybody's interest in taking Sudan's helm. 

The 71-year-old incumbent president, whose intention to run for the presidency again was announced in October 2014, has the odds in his favour in the 13 April election, in which around 13.5 million people out of a population of around 35 million have registered to vote, according to Sudan's National Electoral Commission (NEC).

Sudan's presidential race will include 15 candidates, but apart from Al-Bashir contenders have low profiles among the public.

Most of the main opposition groups, including members of the Sudan Call agreement, such as the National Umma Party (NUP) of former Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi, and the Popular Congress Party, in addition to civil society groups, have announced they will boycott the elections.

The Sudan Call agreement was signed in Ethiopia in December 2014 to unite political parties against Al-Bashir, but is unlikely to affect his winning chances.

With Al-Bashir widely expected to secure another term in office, many are deliberating over why he is running for re-election under dire cirrcumstances, and the ramafications of his highly expected victory.

Challenges and incentives

Sudan faces a regional context of turmoil, in addition to problems with neighbouring South Sudan and Darfur, and a turbulent economy.

Above all, Al-Bashir still faces an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant over alleged war crimes in the western Darfur region.

Such conditions can thwart any regime, yet in Al-Bashir’s case, it could be a motive for re-election.

Sudanese Minister of Information Yasser Youssef told Ahram Online, when asked the reason behind the National Congress Party (NCP) nominating Al-Bashir for re-election, during a conference in Cairo, "There is a sense that Bashir guarantees the stability of Sudan and the ruling party."

Youssef went on to highlight that opposition parties are willing to work in a consensual government under the leadership of Al-Bashir.

Meanwhile, Hani Raslan, head of the Sudan and Nile Water Basin Department at Egypt's Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online that Al-Bashir fears for himself as his regime is known for its exploitation of power.

Even the initiated national dialogue attempts to project the fallacy that the political sphere is inclusive, Raslan added.

In January 2014, Al-Bashir announced a national dialogue aiming to end the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in southern Sudan and Darfur in the west.

Raslan argues that the concessions made in the dialogue are marginal, as Al-Bashir's regime still maintains a strong grip on power.

Yet, Youssef affirmed that the regime has a genuine intention to include all factions in the national dialogue, to resolve existing political disputes. Al-Bashir announced the talks will be renewed after the elections.

This rift on the national dialogue has prompted reservations over the elections.

EU head of foreign affairs Federica Mogherini said in a statement Thursday that Sudan's elections cannot produce a "credible" result due to Al-Bashir's failure to establish a genuine national dialogue, referring to it as real setback and an effective undercutting of the polls.

"When dialogue is bypassed, some groups are excluded and civil and political rights are infringed, the upcoming elections cannot produce a credible result with legitimacy throughout the country," Mogherini said.

Thereby, the European Union announced that it will not participate in monitoring the elections.

Regional ties

In the light of the regional context, Sudan was often expected to join the domino effect of the Arab Spring. Nonetheless, that has not been the case so far.

In spite of enormous challenges, Al-Bashir’s regime was able to survive since seizing power in 1989.

Namaa Al-Mahdy, a human rights campaigner, explains that Al-Bashir is largely isolated, bar a few neighbouring countries in a state of flux and in trouble.

"The Arab League position and the African Union’s positions towards Al-Bashir are regrettable. Al-Bashir’s record of violence against the peoples of the Sudan should have prompted action by the Arab League similar to Syria and a ban by the AU. Why that didn’t happen, I do not know," she told Ahram Online.

In fact, the Arab League and the African Union announced that they will take part in election monitoring.

On the other hand, Raslan highlights that the regional context has a negative impact on Bashir.

"Since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the general context of polarisation in the Middle East is between the two camps of pro or against the Brotherhood," he said.

With the Islamist background of the ruling NCP, Sudan has been in a tight position, with its neighbouring countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, in the anti-Brotherhood camp, Raslan argues.

Even though the introduction of Sharia law in Sudan is largely attributed to Hassan Al-Turabi, not Al-Bashir, Al-Turabi was one of Al-Bashir's former closest advisers and chairman of NCP. However, a rift opened between the two after Al-Turabi’s introduction of a bill in 1999 to limit the president's powers.

Mohamed Morsi, who hails from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted in July 2013 amid three days of mass protests. Egypt labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in December 2013. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE formally declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in March and November 2014 respectively.

Yet, with Al-Bashir's position on the Saudi-led military operation Decisive Storm, it is argued that relations with neighbouring countries might improve. Al-Bashir pledged Sudan's support for the operation and said during the 26th Arab Summit that his country is actively participating in the operation in Yemen.

Expecting improvements in regional ties, Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at Tufts University, told Reuters that Al-Bashir has positioned himself well, saying that regionally he "has come in, out of the cold."

Sudanese economy

Changes in regional ties might actually be to the benefit of the Sudanese economy.

Sudan's international and regional position has had a substantial negative impact on the Sudanese economy, particularly after the separation of South Sudan in 2011.

Sudan's crude oil export revenues fell from almost $11 billion in 2010 to less than $1.8 billion in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since the secession of South Sudan. Not to mention, Sudan also suffers from a raft of UN and bilateral sanctions.

According to Eric Reeves, a Sudan researcher and analyst and author of Compromising with Evil, it is not nearly widely enough recognised that the Sudanese economy is imploding.

Reeves contends that economic instability is a ticking bomb.

Sudan is embarking upon a security, political and economic crisis: it is divided, polarised and in a state of civil war, Raslan concludes.

Al-Bashir is projected to extend his rule to over a quarter of a century. But will he be able to maintain it through these pressing challenges?

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