Sudan – Elections Confirm Status Quo
Presidential and legislative elections were held over four days in mid-April, and the result—the re-election of President Omar al-Bashir and another parliamentary majority for his NCP—was never in doubt. Most of the more than one dozen candidates challenging Bashir in the presidential contest were unknown to the electorate, and both Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Umma Party, the single largest opposition party, and the FCN, a coalition of smaller parties, boycotted the elections.
In the aftermath of the elections, the US, the UK, and Norway—the so-called “Sudan troika”—issued a statement declaring that they would not view the election results as an expression of the will of the Sudanese people. On that basis, there is little reason for Bashir to expect an improvement in his regime’s relations with the west.
That is no small matter for the president. Last year, Bashir issued a call for a pre-election national dialogue involving all parties and even armed groups. Although the effort was a failure, Bashir was clearly hoping that the full participation of the opposition parties in the elections might enable his regime to shed its pariah status, thereby clearing the way for badly needed debt relief, international financial assistance, and possibly even the withdrawal of his indictment on war crimes charges by the ICC.
Against that backdrop, the negative assessment of the troika is very bad news for the president. Political tensions will remain elevated in the aftermath of the elections, a prospect that in combination with widespread discontent over double-digit inflation and endemic corruption will contribute to a significant risk of social unrest in the coming months. In the absence of financial support from the international community, Bashir will have little in the way of carrots to offer an aggrieved population, and will have to rely on the application of force to maintain order.
At present, there is no indication of any shift toward a more militant approach by the Sudan Appeal groups, but heavy-handed moves by the regime could have a radicalizing effect. Mindful of that danger, President Bashir has sought to curry favor with potential non-western benefactors, in particular, Saudi Arabia. Sudan has thrown its support behind a Saudi-led military campaign against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, pledging up to 6,000 troops for the effort.
During the later stages of the election campaign, Bashir repeatedly asserted that Sudan would be rewarded for its cooperation, and the dinar has appreciated significantly in the parallel market since mid-April on expectations of significant financial support from the Gulf monarchies. However, with low prices squeezing the finances of the region’s oil producers, it remains to be seen whether they will be as generous as Bashir has suggested.
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