In this interview, Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to head of the Sudanese National Ummah Party Sadiq al Mahdi about preparations for the upcoming elections in Sudan.
Q) How do you assess the measures being carried out in the Sudan at present to hold the general elections next April?
A) The experience so far has been “so-so”…there are signs of objectivity and attention to impartiality and [on the other hand] there are “fouls” i.e. violations, abuses and corrupt methods. We are now busy with a comprehensive study with regards to this matter, covering the capital and the [other] provinces and even the South because the electoral process is being contested. The study is a result of our strong enthusiasm for the elections based on the consideration that it is the only way [to ensure a] peaceful transition of power. We will do everything we can to hold fair elections in order to settle the issue of a peaceful transition of power but this all depends on the final evaluation of the violations observed.
Q) What steps have you taken so far in this regard?
A) It is in our plan now [to] encourage voters to register on the electoral list, count [cases of] irregularities, and demand that the concerned bodies correct the irregularities, and extend registering. This means an extension to other measures and we told the concerned parties to hold the elections at the end of next April rather than the beginning or the middle of next April. We are also busy with the political dealing of issues, as we can see that the climate – in which there is an exclusionary tone and one of mutual hostility – is not suitable and this reduces the chances of peaceful elections and that’s why we proposed [holding] a Sudanese “political summit” as one way to make the climate suitable for the upcoming elections.
Q) You spoke about “fouls”, i.e. violations at this stage of the electoral process. Can you give us an example?
A) Yes. There are some official parties that exploited their status and were [present] in places where there was registering [of voters] and there is no doubt that this had an impact on the process. There are major violations such as bodies registering [to vote] whilst the law states that only individuals can register. There are parties that registered [also] in workplaces and this is illegal and there is a biased official media that can affect the process. Moreover, there is a main contest [to the process] which is represented by the participation of popular committees in the registering process because the popular committees are formed in light of autocracy and they are biased towards autocracy. There are regions where [voter] registration was taking place in the houses of individuals belonging to the ruling National Congress party, not in public places like schools, etc. Those [who do this] must be confronted and the opposition to the Popular Movement is suspicious about the method of [voter] registration in the South of Sudan. All of these issues require awareness in order to confirm all the methods that we consider corrupt; we will reach an agreement with our opponents and we will talk to the [electoral] commission, the National Congress Party and the Popular Movement based on the consideration that this issue concerns us all. The issue does not concern the electoral commission alone; but rather the acceptance of all parties of all the measures [being taken] now is one of the conditions of the validity of the elections. If the proposed political summit does not bring about a solution to all these issues in the country then we will find ourselves, as we said before, faced with a “Karzai” situation, and elections will become part of the problem in the country and not part of the solution. We must use all the possible means to prevent that from happening.
Q) And what if it cannot be avoided?
A) We will deal with this if it happens, and we want to assume that everybody is innocent until the contrary is proven.
Q) In your view, to what extent do the conflicts [between] the two sides have an effect on the steps towards democratization?
A) These conflicts are very serious. The comprehensive peace agreement that was signed in Naivasha in Kenya was based on the legitimacy of the presidency, the constitution, and the law on the bilateral agreement and if this agreement is broken it will have a negative effect on the peace process, the constitution and the law.
The correct state of affairs is not what is going on now i.e. through bilateral negotiations both sides will have the right of veto on any issue put forward so that the country’s fate would be in its hands. But instead of bilateralism, a third party [is now involved], namely the US envoy, in order to discuss implementing the Navaisha agreement. The US envoy, whatever good intentions he may have, is not familiar with the situation and at the end of the day his role is nothing more than good intentions or to use the carrot and stick policy. Consequently, we believe that the solution lies in [holding the] Sudanese political summit that we suggested and that would include: the presidency of the republic with its current components: the National Congress Party and the Popular Movement, the opposition Ummah Party, the opposition National Democratic Alliance headed by Mohammed Osman Mirghani, the opposition Popular Congress Party headed by Dr. Hassan Abdullah al Turabi, the opposition Sudanese Communist Party headed by Muhammad Ibrahim Nugud, the Sudan Liberation Movement headed by Mina Arko Minawi, Chief Adviser to the President, and the Eastern Front headed by Musa Mohamad Ahmed, Assistant of the President of the Republic, and other people chosen by these forces who represent the opinions of Sudanese civil society. This political meeting would be better than a tripartite mechanism to settle conflicts between the participants; this is a serious Sudanese attempt to “Sudanize” the peace process and democratization and to make it a national process. The political summit will adopt a report by the African Commission headed by [Thabo] Mbeki and through the dialogue that is taking place in Doha between the people of Darfur, this will be able to create a public opinion towards Darfur that will pave the way for an initiative and a group mechanism to deal with the Darfur crisis and other issues that will be dealt with by the political summit.
Q) What do you expect if things continue like this, and the dispute between the two partners continues?
A) This means failure, and failure will lead to serious internal and external problems. There are [also] the repercussions from the International Criminal Court on the Darfur issue which could place the country at risk of international sanctions, and if democratization is not successful this will negatively affect the referendum and peace. The scenario will not resolve the issues that have been proposed which are now hellish and destructive…especially as I see that this year is a leap year in Sudan where there is the spectre of famine and drought at the same time. And now the price of corn and fodder is very high, and this is an early warning, and the water level of the River Nile this year [is also] lower than it normally is, and the waterbeds are dry, and all of this requires national and international effort. However unfortunately some officials are following the same method as [former President of Sudan, Jaafar] Nimieri when he kept repeating that the country is fine and there is no famine until famine struck the country in 1984. The current situation in Sudan calls to anybody who has a heart.
Q) Is there any prospect for peaceful elections to take place in Darfur under the current circumstances?
A) Holding elections there depends on the solution to the problem, and a solution is possible if there is great effort and good intentions, and this [solution] is possible within three months; however this is not possible if we get involved in [political] manoeuvring and altercations. The parties in Sudan can reach a declaration of principles, and I expect the Mbeki report will receive support within the Security Council [when it is presented] on 15 December of this year. For if this happens, this will help in the announcement of a universal mechanism and principles. And through the meeting of the proposed Sudanese summit, peace can be reached in Darfur within three months.
Q) Is another meeting expected for the political forces that participated in the Juba Declaration that was announced at the Juba Summit last October?
A) Yes, a meeting will take place. A date has not been specified, but preparations are underway because the Juba alliance helps in the crystallization of the national vision on Sudanese issues.
Q) How prepared is the Ummah Party for the elections, especially in light of the fact that this party suffered from splits in the past?
A) We are ready, and I want to clarify here that the Ummah Party is well, and will remain so, because this party draws its legitimacy from three things; the historical legitimacy of the party, and it throughout history has been able to gain significant achievements, as well as the legitimacy of struggle, and the Ummah Party has been taking part in the struggle since the independence, and [it has participated in] the uprising and fighting for rescue until today. [Finally] there is its intellectual legitimacy, and it [the Ummah party] has continued to provide intellectual initiatives throughout the past until today, and it issues its opinions and positions across different mediums, from forums to conferences, and others. All of this has turned the party into a “lake of legitimacy” where any fish that leaves this lake dies, especially if this fish does not leave for a reason like hunting [for food] but instead leaves when it is full. In any case, we deal with the opponents with a parental attitude, and we do not take positions contrary to this, and this is better methods than repression.