Weeks after the army ousted veteran leader Omar al-Bashir, Sudan is gripped by uncertainty as talks between the military rulers and protesters on the transition to civilian rule remain deadlocked. Protest leaders have said that preparations are under way for a “general strike and civil disobedience” to pressure the generals to cede power, after the latest round of talks fell through with no agreement.
What are the stakes and what is happening on the ground? Thousands of protesters have remained camped around-the-clock outside the army headquarters in Khartoum clamouring for civilian rule since Bashir’s ouster on April 11. Although their determination has not waned, they have been unable to reach a deal with the military despite three rounds of talks on forming a new governing body that would replace the generals.
The latest round broke up early Tuesday but neither side has said when the talks will resume. There are three forces at play: the ruling military council, the protest umbrella group Alliance for Freedom and Change and the demonstrators themselves. According to prominent Sudanese journalist Khalid al-Tijani, the military council is determined to “have a role because it considers itself a key partner in change”.
The Alliance, he said, “is divided over the role the generals should play” in a future government. The demonstrators are also divided into two camps, with one “leaning towards negotiations” with the generals on a future transition while the other is adamant that the military council must be ousted, said Tijani. “The situation seems to have hit a dead end because the negotiating parties are focused on the form and not the substance,” he added.
Last week violence flared at the protest site, leaving five protesters and an army major dead and many civilians and security forces wounded from gunshots. On April 14, protest leaders handed the new military rulers a list of demands, topped by the immediate transfer of power to a civilian government. Sudan’s military rulers held a first round of talks with protest leaders on April 20. There was a breakthrough on April 27 when the two sides agreed to establish a joint civilian-military ruling council.
However, differences remained over the composition of the council, with each side wanting it to be weighted in their favour. Talks resumed on May 13 and after nearly 12 hours of staunch negotiations the two sides announced they had agreed to have a three-year transition period.
But the talks again stalled on who will lead the transition. The negotiations were suspended for 72 hours with the generals demanding that protesters remove roadblocks erected on several Khartoum roads before talks can resume.
On May 20 a new round of talks to finalise the makeup of a new ruling body took place but the dispute over who should lead it persists, and once again the negotiations were suspended. The generals who seized power after ousting Bashir are resisting growing calls from the international community and the street to cede power to a civilian governing body. They demand that a soldier lead a three-year transition period.
“The key point of contention between the military council and the Alliance for Freedom and Change is over the percentage of representation (in a future governing body) and who will lead it,” the council said.
Protest leaders insist that a civilian must head a new sovereign council and that civilians should be the majority in such a body.
“The military council has categorically rejected that a civilian head the (future) council,” Alliance member Sateh al-Hajj told AFP.
He said the composition of the future government body is also disputed. “We have requested that it includes eight civilians and three military representatives, while the military council wants it to include seven representatives from the military and four civilians,” Hajj said.
According to Tijani both sides are bound to compromise because “they realise that they are on the edge of an abyss and that the country could be engulfed by chaos”. One possible way out, said Tijani, is for protest leaders to accept that a future governing body be led by the military in exchange for approval by the generals that most of its members are civilians.
He also expects the military to up the ante by announcing early elections before the end of the year.
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