Sudan’s opposition parties walked out of parliament yesterday after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s party refused to back down over its plans to allow the intelligence service wide powers, parliamentarians said.
The powerful security forces were blamed by opponents for mass torture and murder during the north-south civil war.
Sudan acknowledges some abuses by security forces but says it investigates cases of torture and killings.
A 2005 peace deal to end the north-south conflict included a new democratic constitution limiting the powers of the security service to gathering intelligence.
Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) tabled a National Security Forces law in parliament which would allow the intelligence service to retain widespread powers of arrest and search.
Analysts say Sudan’s national security and intelligence forces are almost as powerful as the army, controlling a myriad of militias and facing little accountability for their actions.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which entered into coalition government after signing the 2005 peace deal, and opposition parties have described the NCP’s proposals as unconstitutional.
Both sides have launched media campaigns to push their point of view and opposition parties say they will boycott elections due in less than six months if laws are not amended in line with the new constitution.
Farouq Abu Eissa, a member of the opposition alliance, said: “It would not be acceptable to pass this law with only the northerners present,” before his people left the session yesterday.
The move has sparked a political standoff a week after Washington outlined a new policy of incentives to Khartoum to implement the 2005 deal but warning of penalties if it stalled.
“It is now a parliament of one party,” said deputy speaker Atem Garang from the SPLM, which began a boycott of the session last week. “The opposition alliance walked out today and those that are left are NCP allies.”
“If they are serious and have the political will then they should make sure that all the bills should move and then they would resolve this crisis they have created,” he added.
In addition to the divisive National Security Forces bill, laws guiding a southern referendum on secession due in 2011, trade unions and other matters have not been agreed.
Showing no sign of compromise, NCP Justice Minister Abdel Basit Sabderat said a national security force without powers of arrest and search would be “an invitation to chaos”.
Senior NCP official Ibrahim Ghandour accused the SPLM of holding up democracy, questioning how a boycott would advance talks on the law.
“We are not going to stop the parliament holding its sessions, because we are about to start the election process,” he told Reuters.
Electoral registration will begin on November 1 in Africa’s largest country ahead of the already much delayed first multi-party vote in 24 years, which is due in April.
Any further delays in the elections would encroach on the 2011 referendum.
“The interim period is not for any extension. (The) referendum should take place in January 2011,” said South Sudan President Salva Kiir, after meeting Egypt’s president in Cairo.
Sudan’s north-south civil war claimed 2 million lives and drove more than 4 million from their homes, destabilising much of east Africa.
Pic: President Salva Kiir of South Sudan