Millennium Post

Path to democracy

Will Sudan’s power-sharing agreement between military and the protestors lead to democracy?

Path to democracy

A power-sharing agreement signed between the ruling military and a coalition of pro-democracy protestors and opposition groups in Sudan after months of protests and political uncertainty seems to be the first step towards democratic transition in the country.

Under the deal reached last Friday, both sides agreed to set up a joint military-civilian sovereign council that will rule the country by rotation for a period of three years until elections, the main demand of protestors. The military would lead the sovereign council for the first 21 months after which a civilian dispensation would take over for the remaining period.

The governing council will have a total of six civilians and five military representatives. The six civilians will include five from the umbrella group of unions that is orchestrating the protest–Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC) that includes also the Sudanese Professionals' Association (SPA), the main organiser of protests.

The countrywide protests that began early this year eventually led to the ouster of the tyrant military dictator Omar Al Bashir on April 11 after 30 years of his rule. The agreement also proposed the creation of a 300-seat transitional legislature, 67 per cent of which would be lawmakers from the protest movement that had already been agreed in previous talks.

The ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the civilian leaders also agreed to launch a "transparent and independent investigation" into violence that began on June 3 when scores of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in a brutal military pre-dawn crackdown on a protest camp in the capital Khartoum.

TMC, which had assumed power after Bashir's ouster, had earlier stubbornly refused during weeks of negotiations to accept majority civilian control of a proposed interim government, as a result, peaceful street protests continued.

The deal, which came after intense mediation by Ethiopia and the African Union, is a positive step in bringing political stability but getting the ruling military generals to deliver on it remains a challenge.

In view of the June 3 crackdown, analysts doubt whether the military will keep its part of the agreement. Also, there is question whether the military or the security set-up will cooperate fully with the civilian members of the council.

They feel that the intent of the security set-up to accept the civilian control will determine whether the country can move to a fully civilian rule in future. Bashir's authoritarian rule had relied heavily on the military. Many top military brass that allegedly squandered the country's resources, fear arrests once the power goes to civilians. How far the military goes in yielding power to a civilian body is anybody's guess.

There is a possibility of a dispute over the eventual formation of a transitional parliament. Any difference on this could result in a new impasse that would not be in the interest of the country.

The success of the deal will very much depend on TMC as its actions over the past months has shown that it is not serious about giving up power to civilians, although TMC head Burhan has promised to implement the deal and work in close cooperation with the protest leaders.

TMC deputy head General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo has described the deal as inclusive. "We would like to reassure all political forces, armed movements and all those who participated in the change from young men and women…that this agreement will be comprehensive and will not exclude anyone," said Dagalo, who also heads the feared paramilitary unit Rapid Support Forces (RSF) accused by the demonstrators of crushing the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

Although the alliance has become more coherent, it still needs to establish a leadership structure and policy guidelines. However, it is to be seen how long they remain united in their quest to establish a democratically elected government. The power-sharing agreement, analysts also say, is far from a long-term solution to the country's overall political and economic crisis.

The first priority of the new administration will be to tackle the country's economic crisis. This is one of the major challenges. Even the unrest that led to ouster of Bashir was triggered by the crisis of bread.

Protests first broke out when the government tripled the price of bread in December last year. It swiftly turned against Bashir's rule across the country. Bashir's government imposed emergency austerity measures in an attempt to stave off economic collapse.

(The author is a former Editor of PTI and served as West Asia correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. Views expressed are strictly personal)

M Shakeel Ahmed

M Shakeel Ahmed

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