With only weeks left, Khartoum bears few signs that elections are near.
Khartoum – Sudan is heading to the polls on April 13-15. The elections come at a time when a political dialogue, aimed at resolving multiple crises in the war-ravaged nation, faces an uncertain future.
President Omar al-Bashir initiated talks last year for a broad political dialogue with the opposition, including the country’s armed rebel groups fighting in Darfur, the Kordofan region and Blue Nile state.
Dr Ghazi Salahuddin Attabani is a former adviser to Bashir and one of the founding members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). He has also held several senior ministerial positions in the government. Attabani led the 2011 talks that were held in Qatar between the Sudanese government and the rebel Liberation and Justice Movement to bring peace to the Darfur region.
Attabani was expelled from the NCP in 2013 for dissent following a memo he drafted along with other party figures, calling for the end to the violent measures taken against demonstrators who took to the streets in September 2013. He formed the Reform Now party.
Al Jazeera spoke to Attabani about the upcoming elections and the stalled national dialogue.
Al Jazeera: Sudan is in the midst of political turmoil. Is a national dialogue the way forward?
Dr Ghazi Salahuddin: It’s not just the way forward; it’s the only way forward. The other options are either taking to the streets and staging demonstrations with no clear outcome, or engaging in military activities against the government – which could also lead to a worsening situation in Sudan.
Al Jazeera: Do you believe the government will be committed to a dialogue with everybody?
Salahuddin: The government has shown reluctance in pursuing the dialogue. It has to change this attitude, because it has a golden opportunity to bring the country together to champion reforms.
We have demanded citizens to be given their constitutional rights. It is not a gift from the president or anyone else.
I can tell you that even the armed groups, that used to stage military activity against the government, were very interested in a peaceful settlement.
Al Jazeera: What will happen if the government doesn’t seize this opportunity now?
Salahuddin: I am very much against any military intervention, but other [political forces] are not convinced. They believe they will get their rights [either] by peaceful dialogue or by force that will lead to violence. Violence is the last thing we need in Sudan.
Al Jazeera: What kind of reforms would you like to see in the country?
Salahuddin: At this stage we call on all parties to come together [for dialogue]. We would like all to agree on the bare minimum in order to have a functioning state that represents us all. We need to have discussions about an interim period and elections to the satisfaction of everyone.
We don‘t want to push our party’s view and insist upon that. We believe that once we have a state, a consecutive elected body that could engage in drafting the constitution, then we can throw in more issues and talk about reforms.
Al Jazeera: You have opted to boycott the elections. Is boycotting effective? There is a campaign called ‘Irhal’ which means leave. Could the president’s departure be part of the solution? And if yes, where to?
Salahuddin: We haven’t just called for boycotting elections. We also hold rallies where we draw people’s attention to the falsity of the elections. We go around and do positive work to draw attention to the fact that we need to hold elections that are agreed upon and meet the international criteria.
However, the government’s strategy doesn’t seem to be about dialogue as much as it’s about forcing a de facto election. Many parties that decided to engage in dialogue did so based on the assumption that the present government is a legitimate one.
If they insist on having the elections their own way, then some parties might withdraw this recognition which was based on the 2010 general election.
Now we have an opportunity that is being squandered by the government. No one can tell what will happen next.
This is a moment of national unity. This is the moment where you unite your people and you unify your vision. Unfortunately, the government is giving all the wrong signals.
Salahuddin: Absolutely. This is what we are demanding from the government every day, peacefully. In order to prove the point we have decided to lodge one application after the other with the authorities and they were all denied.
They are denying us the right to hold a rally. They give the NCP the right to rally anytime without permission. They can go to any public rally without being questioned. But we are always questioned. We have demanded citizens to be given their constitutional rights. It is not a gift from the president or anyone else.
Al Jazeera: How can you engage in any kind of dialogue? It seems like the opposition is not united, including your own party.
Salahuddin: My party is not having such problems, but we must admit that the opposition is divided. This is something that I have always tried to patch up with different political parties. Because I believe that it is in the interest of the party to have a unified vision, with the opposition or the government.
I would like to see a united front bringing together the government with other parties, and a united opposition front. That’s the only way we can work closer.
Al Jazeera: How do you think Sudan should address President Bashir’s ICC indictment over war crimes in Darfur?
Salahuddin: It is a complicating factor, no doubt. Everyone knows it and they just don’t talk about it. It’s a very embarrassing question but it is lingering around. It is influencing our thinking of the government and the president.
We have a principled position against the ICC, not only because of its position on Sudan. The ICC is a European club, and it targets only African leaders and the underdogs.
The fact that they don’t punish someone for a crime like invading a country for example.
This question was addressed and the proposition there was to allow a national tribunal to adjudicate in such cases with international supervision. I am happy with that. The government should also be happy with it. It clears the way from the ICC and all the complications it brings with it. The Doha agreement is a good way out.
Al Jazeera: You played a big role in the Darfur negotiations in Doha. How do you feel about Darfur and how do you see the future?
Salahuddin: I am alarmed by these developments. Darfuris have never been separatist in their outlook. They have always tried to influence the decision-making of the central government in Khartoum.
Unfortunately what I hear is some youth from Darfur are starting to develop a very strong sub-identity. In a way they are drifting away from the nation.
When we talk about Darfur we have to take into account its strategic location for Sudan. We are talking about Chad, Libya, South Sudan, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon etc. It’s our gate to West and Central Africa. Darfur is very crucial and we must find a solution.
In my view this should have been one of the important agendas in the national dialogue.