More than 20 Sudanese parties threatened yesterday to boycott forthcoming elections if the state’s dominant party does not push through promised reforms in two months.
The oil-producing country, which emerged from a north-south civil war in 2005, is due to hold its first multi-party elections in more than two decades in April 2010.
The former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and opposition parties issued a joint statement at the end of a conference calling for the northern National Congress Party (NCP) to process a backlog of laws, which are seen as key building blocks to the poll.
Laws, including national security and media legislation, should be changed and passed by Nov. 30, according to a copy of the statement seen by Reuters.
“This is regarded as a condition for the participation of the forces participating in the conference in the next election,” the statement added.
The ultimatum is likely to raise already heightened political tensions in the build-up to the vote, which was promised in the peace deal that ended the civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and its mostly Christian and animist south.
A mass boycott of the vote would undermine a key plank in the accord which has also promised the south a referendum on whether it should secede in 2011.
Any return to war in Sudan would have a devastating impact on the country, its oil industry and the surrounding region.
Opposition parties at the conference included Umma, led by Sudan’s last democratically-elected Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Popular Congress Party headed by Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi, and Sudan’s Communists.
Truth and reconciliation
Their statement also called for a South African-style truth and reconciliation body to heal wounds left over from Sudan’s many conflicts and set out a series of steps to resolve the festering crisis in the western Darfur region.
It also said parties should “ensure that those who have committed war crimes are brought to book before independent judiciary” a possible provocative reference to the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of atrocities in Darfur. Bashir heads the National Congress Party.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement formed a coalition government between the NCP and the SPLM, with the majority of parliamentary seats going to the northern party.
But relations between the former civil war foes have been troubled and armies from both sides have clashed in contested border areas since the accord. The SPLM has accused its partner of obstructing the roll out of the peace deal, particularly its referendum, by delaying necessary legislation.
The SPLM’s decision to host a conference including opposition figures in the southern capital Juba has already enraged some members of the NCP, who have printed a string of hostile articles in sate media in recent days.
NCP newspaper Al-Raed said on Wednesday the Juba participants had an unspecified “hidden agenda”, while the state Sudan Vision daily dismissed the event as “a desperate attempt from the opposition parties to prove that they are still active.”
“The fact that the NCP is so enraged is a clear sign of just how well the Juba conference went,” a member of the opposition Umma party told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The NCP’s core shura, or consultative council, nominated Bashir as the party’s sole presidential candidate in the elections yesterday, a decision that should be rubber-stamped by the party’s Khartoum conference late this week.