Sudan opposition parties forge alliance
A new deal between former southern rebels who hope to secede in 2011 and a northern opposition group could threaten President Omar al-Bashir's grip on power if fair elections are held next year.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Sudan's crucial presidential and parliamentary elections – a possible milestone for peace in a country rattled by two decades of civil war – appear to be well underway.Skip to next paragraph
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This week, a former southern rebel group that now shares power in Khartoum with its northern rivals signed a memorandum of understanding to form an electoral alliance with a northern opposition group, bringing the strongest-yet challenge to the rule of President Omar al-Bashir.
The very fact that the southern rebels, the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, have a campaign strategy for the 2010 elections is a hopeful sign, since the SPLM is thought to be preparing itself for a referendum in 2011 that could give southern Sudan its independence. But in the meantime, SPLM leaders are willing to fight for power in a unified Sudan, this time with votes rather than with weapons of war.
"There are a number of hopeful signs for this election," says Abdul Rahim Ali Mohammad Ibrahim, a political analyst who has close ties to Mr. Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP). "The leaders of the SPLM are saying openly that they want to stay in a united Sudan, although a number of people in their party do not feel the same way."
Like many observers, Mr. Ibrahim says the SPLM's alliance with the northern-based Umma Party of former Sudanese Prime Minster Sadiq al-Mahdi should be seen more as a symbolic gesture of mutual support against a common political enemy.
"This agreement is more in the interest of the Umma Party than it is for the SPLM," says Ibrahim. "I think it says something not very material or substantial, and somewhat harmless. Sadiq al-Mahdi was in Juba, and he wanted to make a gesture to the SPLM."
A key step for peace
Sudan's general elections, scheduled for April 2010, are a potentially crucial step for peace in the war-torn North African country, since they would give Sudanese voters from north and south and even the strife-torn Darfur region their first chance to elect their leaders in a decade. At war for nearly two decades – most recently in the ongoing conflict in the western region of Darfur – Sudan has been ruled by an active-duty general, Bashir, who led a coup that overthrew an elected government in 1989.
If they go well, and are perceived to be fair, elections could be Sudan's best chance of remaining a united and peaceful country.