Sudanese government releases dissidents before elections

Sudanese government releases dissidents before elections
The opposition leaders were released amidst domestic and international criticism of the government for failing to ensure fair and representative elections.
4 min read
12 April, 2015
Farouk Abu Issa has been freed by the government [AFP]
Two opposition leaders were released Saturday by Sudanese authorities after four months in detention. Their release coincided with the end of the electoral campaign.

Farouk Abu Issa, head of the coalition of opposition groups the National Consensus Forces (NCF), and Amin Mekki Madani, a prominent civil society activist and human rights lawyer, were detained in December after signing an agreement that angered the Sudanese government. The statement called for national dialogue and regime change. 
     Khartoum has been under pressure from local, regional and international actors to release the leaders.

The two leaders who represented the Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organisations (CSCSOs), signed the Sudan Call agreement with the Sudan Revolutionary Front represented by the northern sector of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Darfur armed movements, and the National Umma Party led by al-Saddiq Mahdi.

Khartoum has been under pressure from local, regional and international actors to release the leaders. Sudan's coalition of opposition groups made this a condition for taking part in national dialogue talks.

The African Union mediation team told Sudanese authorities it had been embarrassed by the detention of the men. The team headed by former South African prime minister Thabo Mbeki had invited the two leaders to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to persuade them to take part in national dialogue talks. 

The meeting aimed to bring together the government and armed and peaceful opposition groups to set the guidelines for dialogue and reach a political settlement to resolve the Sudanese crisis. During the meeting the Sudan Call agreement was signed with armed groups.

Analysts say releasing the opposition leaders at this time sends a double message to international and regional powers. First, the government wants to reassure them it is serious about dialogue after it was heavily criticised for refusing to attend the pre-dialogue meeting in Adis Ababa. 

Second, Sudanese elections expected to start this Monday are facing major challenges. The opposition has boycotted the vote and international actors have urged the government to postpone elections until dialogue has ended and an agreement has been reached on carrying out alternative elections in which all sides take part, including armed opposition forces.

The European Union has released a strongly-worded statement saying it would not recognise the election results. "The people of Sudan deserve better," it read. Head of EU foreign policy Federica Mogherini said on 9 April the envrionment was not "conducive" for elections.

The EU said it was disappointed at the failure to hold national dialogue talks to ease conflict and ensure an inclusive political process.

"The failure to initiate a genuine national dialogue one year after it was announced by the Government of Sudan is a setback for the welfare of the people of Sudan," Moghreni said. She argued the Sudanese government was missing an opportunity by failing to respond to African Union efforts to bring together the relevant actors.

Members of the Sudan Troika (the US, UK and Norway) expressed disappointment a genuine National Dialogue had not begun. In a joint statement they said dialogue was necessary for a truly representative political system. Adding that only through dialogue would the Sudanese people be able confront fundamental issues of governance, political inclusiveness, resource sharing, national identity, and social equality.

But the African Union has overlooked a report issued by a technical committee dispatched by the union in March to Khartoum to assess the electoral process. The report recommends that the African Union abstains from monitoring elections in Sudan because the findings of this mission conclude that it does not meet the international and African standards for fair, inclusive and free elections.

Nevertheless, the African Union decided to send a high-level mission headed by former Nigerian President Ousegun Obasanjo, a decision that was highly criticised by the Sudan Call forces. These forces expressed regret at the African Union's policy, accusing it of ignoring the technical committee's report.

Yassir Arman, secretary general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - northern sector, said, "There are no actual elections, but only an extension. This will prolong the war in Sudan."

"How does the African Union monitor elections taking place under repression and war?" he asked. He then urged international human rights activists to condemn the African Union step and called on Obasanjo to abstain from monitoring the Sudanese polls.

Observers say the African Union's decision to monitor the Sudanese elections results reflects many interests. An African Union source told al-Araby al-Jadeed a major debate had taken place on the monitoring of the Sudanese polls.

The organisation is obliged to monitor elections taking place in any member state. Mbeki also submitted the opposition's demands and linked them to participation in the dialogue by pressuring the Khartoum government to postpone elections.

The source mentioned that the African Union received confirmation from the government to initiate dialogue once elections had finished. The authorities expressed willingness to look into special proposals to form a transitional cabinet and parliament, as well a committee of all political parties to map out a constitution and a comprehensive vision on forming general elections after the transitional period.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.