The declared goal of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s recent visit to south Sudan is the launch of his political campaign; however what was not announced was that the visit coincides with current frantic attempts to buy votes in the south for the presidential elections scheduled to take place next month. In accordance with this scenario, there is pressure on the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] to withdraw its candidate Yassir Arman from the upcoming presidential elections in the interest of al Bashir in exchange for trade-offs and certain promises regarding the issues of the borders and oil. These concessions are disguised as steps being taken in support of the option of unity in a referendum to determine the fate of south Sudan that will be held at the beginning of next year.
Based on information from Khartoum and Juba, this message was conveyed by a number of central government officials and leaders of the ruling National Congress Party [NCP], including Vice President Ali Osman Mohammad Taha and Presidential Advisor for National Security Salah Abdallah Gosh whilst visiting the south recently. Moreover the message itself will be an important part of al Bashir’s visit to the south as part of the electoral campaign. However, the SPLM was quick to respond to the government request [to withdraw Arman from the presidential elections] through announcements made by a number of its officials that it will stick with its presidential candidate and rejects withdrawing him from the presidential race, indicating that the decision to nominate Arman was made by the SPLM’s Political Bureau and is within the democratic option that is supposed to be pluralistic and pave the way for next year’s referendum.
What’s striking is that the government took a number of steps over a short period of time to win over the southerners and buy their support, as it suddenly rushed visits by senior government officials to the south and made efforts that had been stalled and hindered for a long time, in order to resume negotiations between the two partners in rule (the National Congress Party and the SPLM) and to treat postponed issues and pending disputes between the two sides. A settlement was reached regarding a different population census on the two sides, and the government offered compensation to the south by giving it 40 additional parliamentary seats; this raised the number of its seats to a number that gives it the right to veto any new constitutional amendments. The SPLM doubted it partner’s intentions and feared that introducing potential constitutional amendments after the elections would lead to delaying or impeding the self-determination referendum scheduled for January 2011.
The NCP also announced it “abandoned” [the idea] of running in the elections to head the government in the south, stating that it is doing so in the interest of its partner (the SPLM and its head Silva Kiir). However, the reality of the matter is that the ruling NCP was hoping that in return the SPLM would not nominate a candidate to go up against al Bashir in the presidential elections. In fact some [figures] close to the Sudanese president went further beyond that and asked the SPLM to engage in extensive electoral coordination in order to control the elections and the results of the elections and to marginalize other political forces especially opposition forces in the north that reached a coordination agreement with the SPLM, known as the Juba Alliance. This alliance could lead to an agreement between political forces within it to put forward one candidate to run against al Bashir in the presidential elections. But the SPLM rejected the idea of an electoral alliance with the NCP and questioned its move of not nominating a candidate for the presidential elections in south Sudan, stating that it is not doing this in support of Silva Kiir but in support of his competition in the southern elections.
The scenario that is causing concern to the ruling NCP is that the southern votes will prevent al Bashir from winning the first round of elections. Moreover, the possibility of all opposition forces allying with the southerners and nominating one candidate for the presidential elections will form a serious electoral challenge that could end up in a scenario similar to Iran, whereby the elections are questioned and have little legitimacy and increasing opposition. From this point, the NCP is sometimes pressuring and sometimes luring in an attempt to buy the south before the elections with a hidden message that the ruling party is the only one that is able to guarantee the referendum on the south will take place at its appointed time and ensure the implementation of its results even if it is secession. If these attempts fail, it will come as no surprise if the NCP now turns towards accepting discreet calls to postpone the elections and this postponement might contain many warnings for the different sides.