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Sudan’s Opposition Parties Forge United Front; Elections Just Got A Little Trickier

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Sudan’s Opposition Parties Forge United Front; Elections Just Got A Little Trickier

Posted by Laura Heaton on October 6, 2009

“For the first time in our history we have a national consensus," said the leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement, or SPLM, the ruling party in Southern Sudan. Those sound like optimistic words voiced to AFP at the close of a conference that took place last week in Juba, Sudan. But the unification SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum refers to excludes one key player: the National Congress Party of President Bashir.

Leaders of Sudan’s main political parties met in Juba at the invitation of the SPLM. The NCP boycotted the conference, but the delegates, it seemed, got along just fine without them. Or better than fine.

At the end of five days of talks, the parties signed a declaration for “dialogue and national consensus” in which they threaten to boycott national elections if the NCP does not implement the reforms agreed to in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a landmark peace deal signed in 2005 that lays out steps for resolving conflicts between North and South. The next elections, which are slated for April after being pushed back twice, would be the first since 1986.

Most notably, the SPLM was able to rally support from Northern opposition parties for the CPA, even though the Northern groups did not take part in the original negotiations that led to the peace agreement. The declaration called the CPA “central to peace and confidence building between the North and South,” specifically reaffirming commitment to holding a referendum on Southern self-determination and noting that a simple majority will establish independence or unity.

The declaration calls for the government to create a Truth and Reconciliation committee charged with investigating “all violations and atrocities against the rights of groups and individuals” dating back to Sudan’s independence in 1956.

While the participants did not officially comment on the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for President Bashir, the declaration notes that the signatories "affirm zero tolerance to impunity from prosecution" and expects "those who have committed war crimes … brought to book before independent judiciary."

The head of the government of Southern Sudan’s mission to the United States last week addressed criticism that the SPLM, as host of the conference, was issuing an ultimatum to the NCP through this conference. Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said:

"For the last four years we have been struggling as SPLM to make the CPA implemented and also to make the unity attractive to the people of Southern Sudan. But the National Congress Party has been making it very difficult for unity to be attractive.”

As the international community charges full-steam ahead toward national elections next year (the United States, for one, has already pledged $95 million), statements such as those issued by Sudan’s leading opposition parties should make us stop and think about the context in which elections are set to take place. Absent the participation of Sudan’s largest opposition parties, international election backers will have to take a hard look at what elections will actually accomplish.