Why the political agreement in Sudan may end up preserving the military’s power

The agreement signed on July 17 between the military junta and some sections of the opposition has enabled the former to go back on certain commitments it had made in the earlier negotiations

July 18, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Why the political agreement in Sudan may help the military preserve its power
Several sections of the Sudanese protesters are against the agreement that was reached on August 4. Photo: AFP

On June 17, an agreement was signed between the military junta and certain sections of the civilian Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) in Sudan. This political declaration was however was rejected by key members of the DFCF, as well as armed rebels. Opposition forces have said that a government formed through this agreement will not be able to carry forward the goals of the Sudanese revolution.

The agreement effectively postpones discussions on contentious issues to a later stage when a constitutional agreement will be signed. Through this, the military junta has effectively gone back on at least three commitments it had made before.

These commitments have to do with the composition of the legislative council, the power to appoint cabinet ministers and the formation of an independent international committee to investigate the crimes by the military junta since it took charge in April, after the ouster of then president Omar al-Bashir.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a coalition of unions which has been at the forefront of the Sudanese revolution, has rejected the political declaration. It is the SPA whose calls have brought out the majority of the masses on the streets.

The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), which has been working closely with the SPA since its inception, has also rejected the agreement. The SCP says the agreement is a compromise that allows the military to retain unaccountable power over all the crucial organs of the state.

The Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), an umbrella organization of armed rebel groups, is another key force which finds the agreement unacceptable. SRF’s position is of importance because negotiating an end to the civil war in the country was among the most important tasks set out for the transitional period in the Declaration of Freedom of Change. This declaration was signed by a number of opposition parties and unions, which subsequently formed the DFCF.

The July 17 agreement was not even signed in the presence of the representatives of all the members of the DFCF. A source in the SCP told Peoples Dispatch that the entire National Consensus Forces – which includes the parties of Baathists and Arab nationalists, in addition to the SCP – was not represented in the meeting.

The representatives of the SRF, on the other hand, were in the Ethiopian capital, deliberating with DFCF representatives on a common programme for the transitional period. This deliberation had reached its final stage. Under the circumstances, the SRF said, “it is not understandable” why some sections of the DFCF signed an agreement with the military junta “without waiting for the outcome” of this meeting.

In previous rounds of negotiations, the military and the DFCF had agreed that the latter would appoint the entire cabinet (council of ministers). However, as per the latest signed political declaration, the defense minister and the interior minister will be selected by the military junta. “This leaves the oppressive organs of the state in the hands of the military,” the senior SCP member noted.

The role of the military in appointing the cabinet also throws into question the independence of the committee which will investigate the human rights violations committed by the junta. This is because this committee is to be appointed by the cabinet. Moreover, unlike what was previously agreed, this committee will not be working under the supervision of the African Union (AU), but can ask for its assistance if needed.

Similarly, it was previously agreed that 67% of the legislative council would be appointed by the DFCF and the remaining 33% would be left for the political parties outside the alliance, excluding those who were a part of ruling coalition under Omar al-Bashir. The military junta has now demanded that parties which were part of the former regime and tribal leaders also be given seats in the legislative council. The DFCF has refused this.

Incidentally, the military junta’s vice-president, general Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, had previously expressed his concern that the legislative council would dissolve the notorious militia he heads. Known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), this militia, which carried out the massacre of protesters in June 3, is made up of Janjaweed fighters who have committed a genocide in Darfur.

The July 17 political agreement, rather than resolving all these issues, only postpones the discussion by stating that both the parties maintain their respective positions. The dispute will now have to be resolved before the signing of a constitutional agreement, which will spell out the power relations between various bodies of the government.

What has been agreed upon by the signatories is that the legislative council, whose composition is yet to be agreed on, should be established within 90 days of the establishment of the sovereignty council.

Also known as the presidential council, this body will be headed by the country’s president. A military officer will occupy this position for the first 21 months and a civilian for the remaining 18 months of the transitional period following which elections will be held.

The sovereignty council will have 11 members, five of whom will be civilians appointed by the DFCF while five will be appointed by the military junta, and the remaining one will be a civilian with a military background acceptable to both sides.

During these 90 days prior to the formation of the legislative council, the legislative functions will be undertaken jointly the cabinet and the sovereignty council, with the latter having an upper hand. As per the agreement, any bill proposed by the sovereignty council will become a law if the cabinet does not vote over it within 15 days.

Following this agreement, the two sides will be negotiating a constitutional agreement. The draft for this agreement proposed by the military junta seeks to consolidate all power in the hands of the sovereignty council, the SCP member warned.

The centrist National Umma Party – headed by Sadiq al-Mahdi who was removed from power in 1989 through the coup which brought al-Bashir to power – is one of the main opposition parties which has signed and welcomed the political agreement.

The Sudanese Congress Party has also signed the agreement, but has expressed reservations, and has called for a meeting of all forces within the DFCF in order to arrive at a common position this evening.

The Communist Party has stressed the need to form a united DFCF against the military junta, with or without the Umma party coming on board. A legitimate transitional government, the SCP maintains, must be led by a civilian authority, with only a token representation for the military.