What next for Sudan after Bashir’s nomination for a third term?

Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir’s insistence on holding on to power will have grave consequences for his country.

Bashir Sudan Reuters
Sudan's 74-year-old President Omar al-Bashir has been in power since a 1989 military coup [Reuters]

It seems Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has no intention of leaving the presidency in the near future – and his insistence on holding on to power will likely have grave consequences for his country.

On August 9, Sudan‘s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) announced that it would back Bashir as its candidate in the 2020 presidential election. The party’s advisory council said it has endorsed the president for a third term after long consultations among the party’s leadership, even though the party charter – and the country’s constitution – allows only two five-year terms.

The party charter was swiftly amended on the day of the announcement but – at least on paper – there are two more hurdles that Bashir needs to overcome to be able to run for office in 2020. 

First, Article 57 of Sudan’s constitution, which states that the president can only hold office for a maximum of two terms, needs to be amended by the parliament. Second, the NCP advisory council’s decision to endorse Bashir’s candidacy and amend the party charter needs to be approved by delegates at the party’s next convention.

Of course, both votes will be in name only – there is little doubt that the parliament and the NCP convention will endorse anything the totalitarian leader desires, and without much resistance. 

Bashir is a scared man who still has near complete control over the ruling party, intelligence services and the country. Like any dictator who has stayed in power for multiple decades, and ruled with an iron fist, he knows that he can not leave the presidency without facing serious consequences. Furthermore, he wants to avoid facing the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide he committed in Darfur. His inner circle is as scared to lose power as he is, and collectively they are ready to use any means necessary to guarantee the continuation of their corrupt and violent rule.  

The opposition within the party

I spoke to some NCP sources, on the condition of anonymity, about the advisory council’s August 9 announcement. They told me that the entire process was manipulated by Bashir’s inner circle and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). But while Bashir and his supporters clearly have a hold on the advisory council, there are some among the party cadres – especially in youth groups – that are vehemently against Bashir’s re-election.

For example, former presidential adviser and leading NCP figure Amin Hassan Omer has openly expressed his opposition to the president’s reelection. Moreover, it is believed that many more among the NCP leadership are also not supportive of Bashir’s ambitions, but too scared to voice their concerns – such as former NISS director and Bashir’s former senior assistant Nafie Ali Nafie (However, many believe Nafie and many other NCP figures who oppose Bashir are not genuine reformists and just want to increase their own power and wealth).

Furthermore, even though Bashir recently reshuffled the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)’s General Command,  to place his loyalists in positions of power, there are reports that most officers and foot soldiers do not support the president’s decision to run for a third term. Bashir alienated many in military cadres back in 2013, when he created a personal army, known as Rapid Support Force (RSF) militia.

Bashir’s re-election and the war on corruption

In April this year, Bashir declared war on corruption, in a bid to save the country’s collapsing economy.

In a strongly worded address to parliament, Bashir claimed a nexus between foreign currency traders, bankers and smugglers had damaged the economy, already weakened by US sanctions, corruption, mismanagement, armed conflicts and loss of oil revenues since a north-south split in 2011.

“These few people are controlling everything and they have networks in the banking system,” he told the lawmakers.

This was an unexpected move, as only two years earlier in 2016, when the parliament passed legislation that would have allowed anyone regardless of his/her official position to be prosecuted for corruption, Bashir refused to sign it. At the time, it was obvious to Sudan watchers that Bashir was reluctant to approve any anti-corruption legislation that may be used to target him and his inner circle. 

So what to make of the president’s ongoing anti-corruption operation against so-called “regime fat-cats?”

Since the start of the operation – under the direction of NISS director Salah Abdalla Goash – several government officials, military officers, former NISS executives and executives from leading banks and companies have been interrogated or arrested. But none of the accused, so far, has been brought before the courts.  

Hence it is evident to many that Bashir’s war on corruption is largely political and it serves two main purposes: first, to silence, intimidate and remove the regime’s top leaders who oppose Bashir’s re-election; second, to divert Sudanese people’ attention from the regime’s failures in addressing the country’s deep political and economic crises.

 Regional and international response

It is no secret that key Western countries would prefer Bashir to leave the presidency, as the ICC’s two-arrest warrants against the president are restricting their ability to directly deal with Sudan. However, they don’t appear to have a clear plan – or the political will – to force the veteran politician from power. On the contrary, the US and many of its European allies are still collaborating with Bashir on issues like counter-terrorism, regional security and curbing migration.

On the regional level, Bashir has played his cards well and managed to secure some support from some important players. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are using Bashir’s regime to help their efforts to win the war in Yemen and increase their dominance on the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. Moreover, the ceasefire and power-sharing deals Bashir managed to broker between the warring parties in South Sudan also helped the Sudanese president increase his regional standing.

In this context, it is unlikely that many regional stakeholders or western powers  are going to react much to the announcement of Bashir’s candidacy for the 2020 elections. The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (AUHIP), led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, is mandated to assist the stakeholders in Sudan to realise a comprehensive peace, but the panel has not been active recently and it is not expected to take any action regarding Bashir’s renewed political ambitions.

What next?    

Now that Bashir has made his intention to stay in power for life crystal clear, he has two options: He will either rig the upcoming election to guarantee a victory, or he will find a way to renew his tenure, without holding elections.

Whichever path he chooses to follow, the Sudanese people will be the ones to suffer. There is a nationwide opposition to Bashir’s plans to stay in power. Many, including leading figures of Bashir’s own party believe that he is a liability. As result of one man’s insistence on holding on to power, and worsening political and economic crises, we may witness a nation-wide uprising, a coup or a violent power struggle between different groups within the regime in the near future. 

Sudan needs urgent and meaningful help in order to evade total collapse and implosion. The international community needs to stop ignoring Sudan’s crisis and take constructive action. No doubt, real change in Sudan can only be realised by the Sudanese people. However, Sudans crisis has regional and international dimensions and it can only be solved with the help of the international community. The establishment of an international mechanism that has a clear mandate to assist the stakeholders to achieve an inclusive and meaningful democratic transition of power can save the country from a grim future.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.