Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Sudan’s military calls early elections day after deadly protest crackdown

The country’s opposition rejects new vote timetable as Khartoum death toll rises to 35

Sudan’s ruling military moved to tighten its grip on power yesterday and forge its own path for political transition, cancelling agreements and talks with protest leaders as they set about forming an interim government to organise elections within nine months.

The latest moves by the Transitional Military Council and its chairman General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan came a day after a violent crackdown by security forces in Khartoum where the death toll is mounting. The military claimed they were moving against criminal elements among the protesters. At least 35 people have been killed and scores wounded in the single bloodiest day since civilian unrest began in December and forced out longtime president Omar Al Bashir in April.

The military removed Mr Al Bashir on April 11 and began soon after to negotiate with the protest leaders the composition and leadership of a transitional government. The talks foundered over whether a civilian or a general should lead a council proposed to act as a collective presidency during the transitional period. The military council demanded that the sit-in protests end, but the activists refused.

Under pressure from international criticism, Gen Al Burhan, in a televised address to the nation, attempted to project the deadly raid as intended to be a limited operation that spiralled out of control. He announced an investigation into Monday’s events.

He also said protest leaders share some of the responsibility for the latest violence for prolonging because they prolonged the negotiations through their insistence to exclude others and monopolise power. "They wanted to recreate another authoritarian regime ... that lacks consensus and a popular mandate, thus posing a real danger to Sudan's unity," he said.

The opposition rejected the military’s new timetable of nine months for elections and its decision to cancel negotiations over the country’s future. Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces opposition alliance, told Reuters that the crackdown was a “planned matter to impose repression on the Sudanese people”.

Most work in government departments has come to a halt in response to a call for indefinite civil disobedience. Residents are demonstrating on the streets, erecting barricades or digging trenches to prevent military vehicles from entering. Similar actions are known to be taking place outside Khartoum, though smaller, sit-in protests outside several provincial capitals have been disbanded.

Many central Khartoum streets were empty on Tuesday and truckloads of security forces patrolled the city or took up positions at intersections, according to The Associated Press.

The popular response to Monday's violence harkens back to the months of protests against Mr Al Bashir's rule and is likely to continue.

One of the agreements between the military and protesters gave the coalition of parties and trade unions two-thirds of the 300 seats in a proposed transitional legislature.

Another one was to allow the transitional period to last three years, a compromise from between two and four years that the military and protest leaders respectively were demanding.

The sticking point has been who will lead the interim political process. The protest leaders have long argued that an election within the timeframe proposed by Gen Al Burhan on Tuesday would allow Mr Al Bashir loyalists back into power. The military council says it is keen to expedite elections and the transition in order to stabilise the country.

The general did not say whether it would be a presidential or a parliamentary election, but activists are speculating that it would be the former, with the career army officer, who enjoys the support of several regional powers, the most likely candidate to be put forward by the military.

A Sudanese protester stands near a barricade in Khartoum. Reuters
A Sudanese protester stands near a barricade in Khartoum. Reuters

"The scheme to call for elections, withdraw from the agreements with the Forces of Freedom and Change and the creation of an interim government is nothing more than a farce," the Sudanese Professionals Association said in a statement released on Tuesday.

"They think it is well put together, but the people see it as a bad film that is also a remake."

The move to hold elections was condemned by the US, UK and Norway.

"The people of Sudan deserve an orderly transition, led by civilians, that can establish the conditions for free and fair elections, rather than have rushed elections imposed by the TMC's security forces," they said.

Updated: June 5, 2019 10:22 AM

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