One cannot help but feel bewildered by the uproar over Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir’s decision not to stand in the forthcoming elections, making room for another candidate from the ruling National Congress Party (or shall we say the Islamist movement ruling the country behind this party’s façade?). Such talk is nothing new; it was mooted frequently in the past few years and even by Bashir himself on more than one occasion. So why has it elicited this uproar now?
This state of confusion is heightened by the fact that it is still too early to speak about the forthcoming presidential elections, which are scheduled for 2015. In addition to this, ruling party officials have already stated—as far back as in 2011—that Bashir did not want to stand for another term in office. These officials portrayed the situation as “an attempt to consolidate” democracy; something that nobody can believe in view of the regime’s record.
For example, Rabia Abdul Ati, a leading figure in the National Congress party, speaking to AFP in February 2011, said: “I can 100 percent confirm that Bashir will not run for president in the upcoming elections, and that he will make room for other figures to assume the position.” Such discourse is clear and explicit and serves as evidence that the issue had been discussed and decided as early as 2011. So how can we understand the statement issued a few days ago by Qotbi al-Mahdi, another leading figure within the National Congress Party, that the ruling party is facing a dilemma because it had not prepared an alternative candidate and that meetings are being held today to resolve this situation? In fact, Mahdi went so far as to say that in his view, the situation had passed the point where an easy way out can be found.
Is there something being cooked up behind the scenes in the ruling party, or is this just another of the regime’s maneuvers to distract people’s attention away from the critical issue to other futile arguments, and then pass their predetermined plans when everybody is distracted? Ever since the regime went bankrupt and came under increasing pressure, particularly from the secession of the south and public discontent with rising inflation and corruption, it has resorted to a policy of provoking controversy and disorder, aiming to divert people’s attention away from real problems and give the impression that significant changes will lead the country towards greater openness.
However in reality, the government has resorted, each and every time, to imposing greater restrictions; censoring newspapers, detaining journalists, and using violence against student protests. In view of this, the regime has adopted the tactic of stirring up controversy about Bashir’s successor to distract the public away from the real criticism being leveled at the government, even by some parts of the party’s own leadership that have demanded serious reforms. The regime was quick to exploit this climate to pounce on some of its party members who had begun to plan forceful changes within the party. In fact, such a change would not have meant an end to the Islamist movement’s regime; rather it would have reformed it to ensure its survival for years to come.
The regime’s plot to stay in power, albeit in a different form, continues today through the provocation of artificial controversy over Bashir’s decision not to run for president, followed by the leaking of scenarios to convince him to run under the pretext that “the country is passing through an exceptional stage,” as put forward by a number of ruling party figures.
There have been a number of striking statements issued to this effect, including one by Ali Osman Taha, Vice President of Sudan and “Emir” of the ruling Islamist movement. He stated that Bashir’s announcement that he will not be running for president is a “personal opinion,” adding that the final decision will be made by the party’s institutions. What is striking about this statement is that Taha used it as a platform to put forward the possible re-nomination of Bashir, justifying this by saying that there are national issues and tasks that require the president to perform his role and assume his national responsibilities. In fact, there are those believe that Bashir’s re-nomination is meant to ward off possible divisions within the regime, particularly as some parties are of the view that Bashir is the only candidate that the National Congress Party can agree on.
In addition to this, others believe that Ali Osman Taha—who is the party’s prospective candidate according to leaks—is hesitant about running for president in the elections against other rivals. These leaks to the news media claim that Taha would prefer that Bashir run for president, and then for the presidency to pass to him in his capacity as vice president should Bashir decide to step down for health reasons, particularly as the president has travelled abroad on two occasions over the past months for medical treatment.
In an interview with Qatar’s Al-Sharq newspaper in May 2011 about his decision not to seek another term in office, Bashir stressed that: “In the forthcoming elections, I will have served twenty-six years as president. I will be seventy-one years old. A year in power is not like a normal year . . . particularly as the challenges and problems that we face are huge.” He added that “twenty-six years in power is more than enough, whether for an individual or for the Sudanese people.”
It is noticeable that Bashir did not talk about the accomplishments and achievements that would lead an individual or a nation to feel a sense of satisfaction over their performance. Rather, he spoke about the problems and challenges that he would face. If this is how the president feels, then what can we say about the Sudanese people who have suffered greatly and who have seen their country divided, the violence of war, and a warrant for the arrest of their president issued by the International Criminal Court? This is not to mention the official statistics that show that half the Sudanese people live below the poverty line and that Sudan is perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
In late June 2013, Bashir will be completing 24 years in power, which he seized as part of a military coup. Bashir has become the longest-serving president of an Arab Republic following the death of Gaddafi, and the downfall of Mubarak, Saleh, and Ben Ali. So why is there all this controversy if he decides not to run in the forthcoming presidential election? There can be no doubt that twenty-six years are more than enough; will Bashir’s supporters understand this?