In Northern opposition circles the demand of a ‘constitutional conference’ is again moving up the agenda. The Communist Party had for long kept the slogan alive, and it gained additional relevance by Sadiq al-Mahdi’s latest re-embrace. The Umma chief suggested that Thabo Mbeki, as a neutral arbiter should take over mediation and invitation. The Communist Party has more of an Asmara 1995 scenario in mind I presume, and Sadiq eyes a platform for his epic listings of problems and solutions.
The idea of a constitutional conference is born of the balance of power that characterised the years 1986-1989, i.e. the pre-Ingaz parliamentary government(s). At the time it was the organisational form through which the SPLM had agreed to interrogate the implementation of shari’a, ever a thorny issue, and the broad features of a united Sudan, including in today’s jargon wealth and power sharing. One motive behind the Bashir/Turabi coup of June 1989 was to pre-empt the convention of this constitutional conference, which possibly would have ushered the SPLM into power in Khartoum according to SPLM terms, and provided political cover for the abolition of shari’a. According to the accord signed between SPLM and the Democratic Unionist Party in November 1988 shari’a was to be frozen till convention of the constitutional conference which would take a binding decision on the question.
In the current constellation neither the SPLM nor the NCP have an identifiable need for such a platform considering the shift of rules from a united Sudan to partition. The two major issues that could have busied a constitutional conference, shari’a and the future of Southern Sudan, have been addressed by the Machakos protocol; the name of the freeze is ‘one state two systems’ and the solution is ‘division’. It takes quite a leap of wishful thinking to believe that the two, SPLM and NCP, would be pressed to act otherwise in the name of national interest, except if the constitutional conference becomes an advocacy forum of an unholy alliance of largely Northern forces to forestall Southern independence, which is decidedly the direction of the SPLM in power, New Sudan well and good.
Proponents of the constitutional conference argue that it would provide space for a Sudanese package for post-referendum issues, broadly spread future relationships between North and South, in other words a mass thinking exercise. Here I claim the opposition might just be bluffing. The Northern opposition has not floated a single concrete proposition to address any of the conundrums in question. If the opposition wants to get back into the politics of the day it had to do the thinking at home, alone.
Take Abyei for instance, the training ground for South-North disentanglement. There are American proposals, an Mbeki proposal, as well as a range of declared NCP and SPLM positions. Possibly eager not to hurt anybody the opposition has remained mute over Abyei, well apart from general principles. As a litmus test for SPLM/NCP differentiation Abyei is a reasonable entry to challenge the current coordinates, and anger everybody.