Despite rigging charges levelled by his main opponent, Salva Kirr, heading the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ball has rolled neatly into Bashir’s court—for now. Looming large on the horizon is the crucial referendum. Scheduled for 2011, it will decide the fate of the oil-rich South, long vying for independence.
The significance and irony of the election makes for interesting study. The first open election in 24 years, it has given the Sudanese people a chance to make a clear choice. Voting for a leader indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur is significant for its irony. The people of Sudan, in doing so, have rejected the charges against their President. Bashir’s rule, since he took over the reins of government after a coup in 1989, has been interspersed with civil conflict and deep unrest. The plebiscite that ended the seven-year conflict between the North and the South remains despite strains. Yet, the decision dreaded by the North must be accepted. It is not expected to be an easy task, since it involves much more than re- drawing borders.
Oil, a prized revenue generator, is the key word here. Southern Sudan’s oil reserves figure high on the agenda. In case, the South decides to break away from the rest of the country, it will have to formulate a feasible revenue sharing plan, besides arrangements for transporting the oil through the North to the Red Sea. The question is whether the North, rather President Bashir, will cede ground regardless of an obligation to respect the outcome of the referendum. Even now, Bashir hopes to dissuade the South from breaking away and opt to stay part of a united Sudan.
The issue is whether either party reneges on its commitment or violates, in principle, any agreement it has previously made. It can only result in further violence and deterioration of stability. In the midst of the politicking are the Arab Janjaweed militias that are said to be sponsored by Bashir, an allegation he denies. The question is, how long will the tenuous truce remain intact if circumstances are not conducive to a smooth transition to a divide following the referendum? It was only two years back in 2008 that Khartoum was subjected to the advances of Justice and Equality Movement (JeM) rebels. Fortunately, the situation was controlled as Bashir made peace with them.
As long as both Bashir and Kiir do not indulge in aggressive power wrangling, post-election Sudan may not be as unstable as feared. But a lot of care is needed to see to it that it does not slide into the chaos of the past. The people of Sudan do not deserve this. It is time its political leadership looks beyond the vested interests of power acquisition and decide in the larger good of the country.
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