Sunday, 12 September 2010

Mr al-Mahdi: is that your best shot?

On the event of the Moslem Eid al Fitr Sadiq al-Mahdi, Chairman of the Umma Party and pre-NIF coup Prime Minister, presented worshippers in Omdurman and the wider audience with a set of suggestions to peacefully overcome the referendum, what he referred to as the most significant challenge facing the country. Sadiq al-Mahdi, a master of formalism made points that appear all so soundly valid, but are very much telling of his major political handicaps.

On the forefront he suggested that the two partners to the CPA, NCP and SPLM, refer the administration of the referendum to the UN, and even more placid, refer the resolution of contentious issues to a committee of wise elders agreed upon by all political forces in the country. This suggested committee should complete its mission by the end of 2012 without prejudice to the referendum time-line. According to al-Mahdi, a repetition of the elections scenario in the referendum would lead to further polarisation, and a probably more destructive war. Effectively what al-Mahdi is asking the partners to the CPA to do is to surrender authority over the CPA and its climax, the referendum, to non-signatories, the UN and the ‘opposition’, a step that would imply a transition of power tantamount to regime change in Khartoum, whereby the opposition and the UN preside over the referendum, and its signatories remain in watchful waiting of its outcome.

Of course, such an easy takeover of political affairs in Sudan is beyond al-Mahdi’s current political credit. CPA partners may ask the UN for observation and technical assistance but the political stakes of the referendum are their guarded arena. An SPLM that surrenders the referendum to whatever power would be committing political suicide, and an NCP that hands over its authority over the referendum would be playing its most precious card gratis. Even al-Mahdi’s claim that an elections like referendum scenario would be destabilising is grandly fictitious. The NCP-SPLM deal that settled the elections in favour of the status-quo maintained stability of a different kind, the stability of fixed authority. The notion of design-free elections would have meant a fragmentation of power in Juba and Khartoum, democracy yes, but not necessarily stability.

Sadiq al-Mahdi’s formal and politically cleansed arguments are a token of his incapacity to fully appreciate the weight and calibre of his adversaries, a deadly sin if you are out to win power, or to keep it. During his reign as Prime Minister Mr al-Mahdi’s delayed recognition of the SPLM/A’s military and political stamina cost him his office, and the country its hard-won democracy. Arop Madut-Arop’s book “Sudan’s Painful Road to Peace: A Full Story of the Founding and Development of SPLM/SPLA” provides an illuminating account of Sadiq al-Mahdi’s pendulum like indecisiveness and susceptibility to NIF blackmail over the strategic issues that constituted the agenda of war and peace at the time. If asked the same questions today regarding the 1983 September laws and the format for an all Sudan constitutional arrangement he would still prevaricate.  Mr Imam, give us a break!

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.