Last night kept many people in Sudan up late guessing and making phone calls, as news of the SPLM’s decision to withdraw its presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and boycott the election in Darfur at all levels traveled from cell phone to cell phone and onto the news wires. After the basic details of the announcement were established, the larger question of what it all means was front and center. What deals were made behind the scenes? How would the NCP react?
Some reasoned that there must have been a deal hammered out between the SPLM and NCP before the SPLM announced its decision to withdraw Yasir, because it would have been too risky for the SPLM to declare its move without having a guarantee from the NCP that the decision would be accepted. Others wondered if there was a grand bargain between the parties that included a coordinated means of reaching out to the opposition to implore them not to boycott the polls, given that both the NCP and SPLM have an interest in making the elections appear as inclusive and credible as possible. Other observers were busy dissecting the semantics of the SPLM’s announcement, noting that the party had chosen to end the campaign of its presidential candidate, perhaps enabling him to save some face, while using the term “boycott” in Darfur, which allows the SPLM to voice its disapproval with “irregularities” in the electoral process.
Much of the SPLM’s decision was driven by tensions within the party. On the one hand, the party saw increasing number of opposition groups calling for a boycott of the elections all together. On the other hand, President Bashir was threatening to oppose the South’s independence referendum if the SPLM joined such a boycott. As the SPLM political bureau met yesterday afternoon in Juba, the high stakes of their decisions were well understood by citizens in Juba and analysts in other capitals alike.
There’s no doubt that in opting to withdraw its presidential candidate, the SPLM ultimately settled on a strategic hedge: hoping to keep the referendum on track while essentially signaling that they don’t think the national election will be free and fair. It remains to be seen how this compromise will play out within the party.
If anything, as the dust settles around the latest news, or perhaps swirls again amid new reports today that many opposition groups would boycott the elections on the presidential level, it is clear that the NCP and SPLM are still capable of pulling out last minute deals in attempts to prevent political disaster. Yesterday at this time, many Sudanese and international observers were scratching their heads, wondering how the parties would resolve the latest crisis. As our report released yesterday argues, this elite, backroom deal-making continues to leave most Sudanese out in the cold. National elections, which had once been viewed as a cornerstone of national reform and transformation, are quickly descending into a cruel farce.
Photo: Incumbent President Omar al-Bashir now runs virtually unopposed in Sudan’s upcoming election. (Flickr)