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.
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"The SPLM is attempting to create a coalition that is a political counterweight to the NCP's domination of the current system," says John Prendergast, an Africa expert at the Enough Project, a human rights group that focuses on the prevention of genocide. The NCP has strong advantages over opposition parties, Mr. Prendergast says, and its past use of bribery and armed militias to undermine its enemies could be the main motivation for the SPLM to use all methods, including peaceful political ones, to make friends and influence people.Skip to next paragraph
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With this alliance, he adds, "The NCP will have to rig the elections fairly profoundly in order to win next year's vote."
The South will rise again?
Explaining the alliance to a reporter from Voice of America, Mr. Mahdi said the Umma Party was prepared to accept the possibility of South Sudan's secession from Khartoum, and sees this agreement as a chance to maintain peaceful relations throughout.
"We think its time to begin to discuss the possibilities of separation and an independent South, so that we are prepared for the eventuality," said Mahdi. A pragmatic and moderate former prime minister of Sudan, Mahdi was overthrown by Bashir at a time of intense negotiations with the rebellious leadership of southern Sudan in 1989.
The SPLM's participation in the 2010 elections is by no means guaranteed, and its relations with Bashir's party have been rocky. In October 2007, the SPLM temporarily suspended its participation in the so-called Unity Government with Bashir's NCP, because of what it regarded as broken promises. Disagreements over boundary lines between northern and southern controlled states – lines that cut across some of Sudan's most productive oil fields – and distrust over the sharing of the government's oil revenues have at times led to sporadic bouts of fighting between soldiers loyal to Khartoum and those loyal to the southern capital of Juba.
This is not the SPLM's first foray into political alliances. During the 1990s, when the SPLM was still at war with the Bashir government in Khartoum, the SPLM's leader John Garang forged a National Democratic Alliance with several northern parties, and maintained these ties leading up to the eventual peace treaty that ended the civil war in January 2005. But Murtada al-Ghali, editor of the Khartoum-based newspaper Al Ajras al-Huriya, says that the agreement between SPLM and the Umma Party is "significant."
"An alliance with Umma Party is very significant, as SPLM moves to elections," says Mr. Ghali. "These elections have real importance to the SPLM and NCP, because there are a lot of issues still to be dealt with, and a lack of trust between the two sides."