For Su­dan’s Bashir, now the battle be­gins


He may have eas­ily se­cured an­other five years in power on Mon­day, but Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir still faces ma­jor chal­lenges in solv­ing Su­dan’s eco­nomic woes and end­ing its in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion.

Bashir, who won more than 94 per­cent of the vote, is also wanted by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court over war crimes in the west­ern re­gion of Dar­fur, cur­tail­ing his abil­ity to travel abroad freely.

Since seiz­ing power in an Is­lamist­backed coup in 1989, his rule has seen Su­dan slapped with a U.S. trade em­bargo for host­ing late al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and for rights abuses.

Bashir has tried to dis­tance him­self from rad­i­cal Is­lamism, but he is un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure over con­flicts in Su­dan’s bor­der re­gions and over re­pres­sion of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

The gov­ern­ment will now have to win over the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity with a long-promised na­tional dia­logue with the op­po­si­tion and with new for­eign al­liances, an­a­lysts be­lieve.

Do­mes­ti­cally, Bashir can work to end Su­dan’s iso­la­tion by “stop­ping the war and achiev­ing in­ter­nal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” said Adel al-Baz, an eco­nomic colum­nist with the in­de­pen­dent Al-Youm al-Tali news­pa­per.

He “can­not ig­nore the dia­logue af­ter the elec­tions be­cause it has be­come a re­gional and in­ter­na­tional de­mand, as well as one from all in­ter­nal par­ties, and it is an ur­gent mat­ter to re­solve,” Baz said.

The Euro­pean Union had said the vote would not pro­duce a “cred­i­ble” re­sult be­cause of Bashir’s fail­ure to hold the talks aimed at re­solv­ing con­flicts in South Kord­o­fan, Blue Nile and Dar­fur, as well as tack­ling eco­nomic woes.

Unity Gov­ern­ment?

The ne­go­ti­a­tions are a ma­jor con­cern for Khar­toum be­cause many west­ern coun­tries see rec­on­cil­i­a­tion as a pre- req­ui­site to im­prov­ing ties with Su­dan’s gov­ern­ment.

While Bashir is in a po­si­tion of strength — re­cent con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments granted him greater pow­ers — his gov­ern­ment must now choose be­tween car­ry­ing on down this path or bring­ing op­po­si­tion par­ties into gov­ern­ment to build for­eign sup­port.

“The new gov­ern­ment will have choices to make be­tween a sta­tus quo with an in­creas­ing con­cen­tra­tion of power around the pres­i­dent and the se­cu­rity, and a tran­si­tion that could in­volve a new gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity,” said Jerome Tu­biana, an in­de­pen­dent an­a­lyst spe­cial­iz­ing in Su­danese af­fairs.

Hold­ing talks on end­ing con­flicts in bor­der ar­eas would in­gra­ti­ate Khar­toum with Wash­ing­ton, which placed Su­dan on the state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism list in 1993.

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is also key to in­ter­na­tional sup­port to mend the bat­tered econ­omy.

When South Su­dan se­ceded in 2011 un­der a peace deal that ended a bloody civil war, it took with it three quar­ters of the coun­try’s rev­enues, harm­ing Khar­toum’s fi­nances badly.

“Su­dan’s for­eign debts have passed US$40 bil­lion (37 bil­lion eu­ros) and it is un­able to pay them off, and so the cur­rent gov­ern­ment wants to have its for­eign debts for­given,” said Has­san Makki, a pro­fes­sor at Khar­toum’s African Uni­ver­sity.

“This will not hap­pen so long as it does not change its poli­cies to­wards the out­side world and in­side Su­dan,” he said.

Diplo­matic Of­fen­sive

Be­fore the elec­tions, Khar­toum launched a diplo­matic of­fen­sive, tak­ing ad­van­tage of tur­moil in Ye­men to shift its re­gional al­le­giances, join­ing the Saudi-led coali­tion against Shi­ite Huthi rebels there.

Su­dan’s mil­i­tary is al­ready tack­ling in­sur­gen­cies in Dar­fur, Blue Nile and South Kord­o­fan, but it has sent jets to join the cam­paign and of­fered ground troops if needed.

Makki said Bashir “found the Gulf mil­i­tary al­liance in Ye­men of­fered it an op­por­tu­nity to open up new av­enues,” hav­ing pre­vi­ously been close to Sunni Saudi Ara­bia’s arch-ri­val, Shi­ite Iran.

Su­dan’s press has been abuzz with re­ports about in­vest­ments from the Gulf af­ter the elec­tions, although top pres­i­den­tial aide Ibrahim Ghan­dour said such in­vest­ment was noth­ing new.

How­ever, Bashir’s gov­ern­ment “needs to look abroad for fi­nances to cope with the eco­nomic cri­sis,” Tu­biana said.

Khar­toum in March also helped to bro­ker a deal be­tween Egypt and Ethiopia over shar­ing the wa­ters of the river Nile, bring­ing it closer to Cairo which has long been wary of Su­dan’s Is­lamist ties.

The coun­try’s new re­la­tions could give it crit­i­cal lever­age with Wash­ing­ton, which sees both Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia as key re­gional part­ners.

Bashir will try to bring Su­dan in from the cold by “us­ing its al­liances both in the African re­gion or the Gulf mil­i­tary coali­tion to have its debts for­given and to have its name lifted from the list of state spon­sors of ter­ror,” Baz said.

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