Upon the secession of South Sudan last July President Bashir declared his intent to form a ‘broad-based government’ in the rump (North) Sudan possibly with the participation of the main opposition forces. Since then the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has been engaged in extensive negotiations with the two larger parties in the scene, the National Umma Party (NUP) led by Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani. Conscious of the inevitable economic and political repercussions of secession the NCP wished to secure its hold on the Sudanese heartland through an alliance by engulfment with the two sectarian mass parties or at least one. Apart from spurring the breakaway of yet another DUP faction the talks with the two major parties did not yield any results of immediate interest to the NCP.
According to the Vice President, al-Haj Adam Yusif, the NCP had made a most “convincing” offer to the opposition, as much as half the seats of the cabinet. Despite the declared rejection of the offer by both the NUP and the DUP Yusif remains hopeful. He told a conference of his party in Atbara “the [opposition] parties still have the opportunity to join the government at any time irrespective of the composition of the coming cabinet”. President Bashir himself acknowledged the deadlock in his address to the National Assembly on 10 October. He made the rhetorical claim that NCP and the opposition had reached a consensus over “national concepts” and certain “commonalities regarding the preservation of the country’s unity”. On a more aggressive tone Qutbi al-Mahdi, the chief of the ruling party’s political sector, told reporters on 5 October that the opposition faces the choice between cooperation with the NCP and collaboration with the enemies of Sudan, the Western powers, Israel, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Nafie Ali Nafie, the NCP’s Deputy Chairman, resumed the flirt when addressing the closing session of a conference of the ruling party’s political sector attended by the NUP chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, and several senior DUP politicians on 11 October. He stated that the participation of the opposition parties in such a function of the NCP is a consequence of the “constructive dialogue” between the two sides.
The NUP and the DUP had apparently bargained for more than a share in the cabinet. The NUP had a name for its bride wealth, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s ‘national agenda’, a list of demands under the theme of ‘the transformation of the party-state into a nation-state’. The DUP, not so much plagued by concerns of intellectual prestige, chose a more frank approach. The party’s negotiators simply stated that the NCP’s offer was far less than the due of the historical party of the national movement. They demanded the allocations of positions to the DUP extending right through the government structure, from the presidency to the localities.
Sadiq al-Mahdi at least was obviously reading from his 1977 diary. In that year the NUP chief and President Nimayri agreed on the terms of what became known as the ‘national reconciliation’. Sadiq al-Mahdi returned from years of exile to assume a leading position in Nimayri’s Sudan Socialist Union (SSU) next to Hassan al-Turabi. The two men had allied against Nimayri in the opposition National Front generously hosted by Libya’s Gaddafi. Exhausted by their disastrous July 1976 military attempt at Khartoum from their Libyan base the two chose to join the man they could not beat. Turabi made the best of the unexpected turn of events. The rapprochement with Nimayri is identified in Turabi’s history of the Islamic Movement as the period of ‘reconciliation and development’. The Islamic Movement grew into the state machinery as it were. Sadiq al-Mahdi was less fortunate. Incapable of adaptation to the realities of the ‘one party state’ a frustrated Sadiq eventually resigned from the SSU’s politburo to grumble at home while Turabi developed the definitive disorder of army politics, an infatuation that eventually cost him his power and his Islamic Movement.
Informed by this experience Sadiq al-Mahdi resisted the NCP’s passionate overtures secretly hoping that a repeat intifada might sweep the regime away. Sadiq is equally anxious that such a popular outburst might even endanger the authority and standing of the established parties, his own included. The wise NUP chairman wants the Aristotelian gold, a negotiated hygienic transfer of power through the means of a constitutional conference and an electoral process. The anti-Mahdist Sadiq, I fear, does not have the sufficient credit to make such a long call.