JUBA, Southern Sudan – Late last night, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement—the ruling party in southern Sudan and the southern partner in Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement—announced its candidates for the two presidential contests set to take place in the country’s April elections. The SPLM nominated its leader and current president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, to run for the South’s presidency and chose Yasir Arman, a northern Muslim and party official, to run against indicted war criminal President Omar al-Bashir at the national level.
The SPLM’s decision to keep Salva Kiir in power in the South comes as no surprise to many people in Juba, given that the prevailing southern sentiment leans heavily in favor of secession in the 2011 referendum. Southerners I spoke to today thought it was reasonable that the SPLM would prioritize stability in the semi-autonomous South in this crucial year.
"Of course they chose Salva for the GoSS [Government of Southern Sudan] race," said my friend Patrick, who is from Western Equatoria State. "It would not be smart to put Salva against Bashir [in the Government of National Unity Presidential race] since these elections will be rigged."
The SPLM and its northern partner, the National Congress Party in Khartoum, have a long laundry list of big-ticket issues to resolve before the 2011 referendum. The peace agreement requires that the parties square up on a number of outstanding issues, such as demarcation of both the 2,100 kilometer North-South border and that of the long-contested and oil-rich Abyei region.
As for the national presidential race, the fact that the SPLM put forth a senior-ranking party official for the ticket signals their wish to show that they are still serious about the idea of a unified Sudan. But, from this field researcher’s point of view, the idea of North-South unity in Sudan seems more far-fetched by the day, as the country hurtles toward elections that are unlikely to be credible and a referendum that could kick off a return to widespread conflict.
Photo: SPLM’s nominee for the South Sudan presidency, current South Sudan President Salva Kiir.