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Sudanese left warns election under military junta-right wing will legitimise coup

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Picture: Ela Yokes/EPA-EFE – Sudanese protesters chant slogans during a rally on June 3, 2022, marking the third anniversary of a crackdown on a mass sit-in outside the army’s headquarters in 2019, in Khartoum, Sudan. Due to army attacks, many people were killed by members of the security forces during a violent cleansing operation on June 3, 2019.

By Pavan Kulkarni

The Framework Agreement signed in December to reach a power-sharing arrangement between Sudan’s military junta and a right-wing coalition of parties has no constitutional legitimacy, warned Saleh Mahmoud, Foreign Relations Secretary of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).

The political parties of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition do not have a popular mandate to negotiate with the coup leaders, he told African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Moussa Faki at a meeting in capital Khartoum on February 13.

This meeting between delegates from the SCP and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council was convened on Faki’s invitation, in the backdrop of increasing international intervention to conclude a power-sharing arrangement between the army and the FFC.

However, at the mass-demonstrations against the junta which have been unrelenting since the army seized all power with the coup on October 25, 2021, the slogan – “No Negotiations, No Compromise, No Partnership” with the military – continues to resound on the streets of Sudan.

Western envoys meet with coup leaders

Disregarding this popular sentiment, envoys of the US, UK, France, Germany, Norway, and the European Union (EU), arrived in Khartoum on February 7 to meet with the military coup leaders and representatives of the FFC parties who signed the Framework Agreement. Special Representative of the European Union for the Horn of Africa, Annette Weber, said: “We came to Sudan carrying a message of hope and support for the framework agreement.”

Protests coinciding with the visit were called for by the Resistance Committees (RCs). A network of over 5,000 of these committees spread out in neighbourhoods across the country has been leading the pro-democracy protests against the military junta since the coup.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) reported several injuries, including by live fire, in the crackdown on these protests on February 7. On February 9, when protesters marched toward the Presidential Palace – the seat of coup-leader and army chief Abdel Fattah al Burhan where the international envoys met him – security forces killed a 15-year old boy with a tear gas canister shot at his head. As many as 124 people have been killed in repression since the coup.

Osama Saeed, an SCP member who was protesting in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman where the boy was killed, told Peoples Dispatch: “The US and its allies don’t give a hoot about the atrocities committed by the junta. Their only concern is that the military is not able to administer the country due to mass-resistance.”

He insisted that western governments therefore “want to bring in some civilian technocrats to run the administration while the military maintains its political power”.

“They only want to create a suitable economic environment in Sudan for their corporations and agri-businesses to invest. Human rights and democracy are not their concerns.”

Nevertheless, US Acting State Secretary Peter Lord described the Framework Agreement as “the ideal basis for establishing constitutional arrangements that will lead to a transitional period which ends with elections”.

The joint statement of the envoys on February 9 also stated: “The Framework Political Agreement process remains in our view the best basis on which to form a civilian-led transitional government and establish constitutional arrangements for a transitional period that culminates in elections.”

Any elections held on the basis of the Framework Agreement under an arrangement where the military retains political power cannot be free and fair, argues Mahmoud. “The junta will inevitably manipulate the process to secure its power. Its puppets will win rigged elections,” he told Peoples Dispatch. “It is obvious” that the purpose of such an election is “only to legitimise the military regime” with a façade of democracy, he added.

“We do not have the basic laws needed to safeguard the right to campaign. Our laws actively impede the exercise of freedoms set out in international declarations such as the The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” he said. Basic rights, he argues, need to be secured before the election for it to be free and fair.

“Millions of displaced citizens will not be able to vote”

More importantly, “there are millions of citizens who are entitled to the electoral process, but cannot participate in it because we still don’t have peace. In Darfur alone, we have nearly six million displaced”, added Mahmoud, who is also the president of Darfur Bar Association.

“Most of them are confined to IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps in Sudan or in refugee camps outside the country. Other communities, including from other countries in western Africa, have been resettled by the regime on the land from which they were forced to flee during the civil war.”

The war has ended only on paper with the Juba peace agreement signed in August 2020. But armed violence has continued and even increased, according to many observers. The notorious state militia called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by the military junta’s deputy chairman, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, is frequently involved in armed attacks which have caused displacement of millions more in Darfur since the peace agreement.

IDPs remain the most frequent victims of these attacks. Adam Rojal, Spokesperson of the General Coordination of Displaced and Refugees, maintains that purpose of targeting the IDPs is to eliminate the surviving witnesses of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, for which former dictator Omar al Bashir stands trial at the International Criminal Court.

Bashir was handed over to the ICC after he was ousted in April 2019 by the December Revolution. However, the generals in his security committee immediately seized power after his ouster. Following the massacre of protesters outside the army HQ on June 3 that year, the FFC entered into a negotiation and signed a power-sharing agreement on the basis of which a ‘joint civilian-military transitional government’ was formed.

The army continued to control most of the economy and foreign policy under this government. The little power that was ceded to the civilian leaders chosen by the FFC was also retaken by the army in the coup on October 25, 2021. The leaders of most of the armed rebel groups, who were given a share of state power after signing the Juba agreement, went on to support the coup. Violence in Darfur, Blue Nile and Nuba mountains has sharply increased since.

‘Juba Peace agreement must be abolished’

The Framework Agreement reiterates commitment to the Juba agreement. Mahmoud, however, insists that the “Juba agreement is only a power-sharing agreement between the leaders of armed groups, the military generals and their allies in the RSF. It does not reflect the needs of the people in these regions.”

The agreement cannot be corrected with amendments to it, he added, insisting that “it should be abolished in its entirety”. A genuine peace process, in which the primary victims of the war – the IDPs – have their say, “can only begin after this military junta is overthrown”, Mahmoud maintains.

“Of the 67 years since Sudan’s independence, the military has ruled the country for more than 57 Years. This is the root of all corruption, hunger, wars, violation of basic human rights, the displacement of millions in Darfur, the conflict in Blue Nile and Nuba mountains, the secession of the south, the June 3 massacre and the increasing violence in capital Khartoum,” he said.

None of these problems can be overcome until the military junta is overthrown and its generals are tried for all their crimes by an international body like the ICC, he argued, reiterating SCP’s call for backing the street protests with a political general strike and total civil-disobedience.

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch