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Sudanese president Bashir sworn in, promising change, raising doubts

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Sudan President Omar al Bashir voting in Khartoum in April Reuters

Analysts doubt that Omar al-Bashir who was sworn in for a new presidential term on Tuesday will steer Sudan in a radical new direction. Speaking at his inauguration, Bashir told parliamentarians that his programme for the next five years “will open a new page". But observers are sceptical.


“He’s been in power for 25 years already,” said Rift Valley Institute analyst Magdi El Gizouli in a phone interview from Germany. “I’m not sure that an extra five or 10 years will bring any big, bright ideas.”

Dossier: Independence for South Sudan

In traditional gleaming white robes and turban, Bashir announced that he would seek “dialogue with Western countries".

Relations with the European Union have been strained, especially since Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in the western region of Darfur, a conflict in which more than 300,000 people have died since 2003.

The Europan Union has also expressed concern about Sudan’s elections. The EU refused to send election observers to monitor the April presidential election that Bashir won with a whopping 94 per cent of the vote. It was boycotted by the mainstream opposition and marked by low voter turnout.

In Khartoum Bashir’s inauguration was attended by African leaders, including Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Tribal leaders were also in attendance, a reminder that ethnic leaders who command self-defence forces play a growing role in Sudan – especially in Darfur.

“Bashir is inviting what used to be called -- once upon a time – the native administration,” remarked El Gizouli. “He is trying to employ community leaders as a replacement for political parties.”

It would be wrong to think, however, that Sudan remains steeped in tradition. Change is obvious on the military front. Militias like the Rapid Support Force are now taking the lead in military operations in the country’s numerous embattled regions (primarily Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan) – not the army.

Regular forces step in to administer an area after a militia has reclaimed territory from rebel forces, according to Abdelbagi Jibril of the Swiss-based Darfur Rehabilitation and Documentation Centre.

Bashir on Tuesday again promised to "bring about a comprehensive peace", a reminder that the Doha peace process has failed to end war in Sudan.

The Khartoum government remains committed to a military solution to the country’s conflicts, according to Jibril.

“They believe in a military victory to end the conflict,” he said. “They have always repeated and continue to repeat that they are going to end and crush the rebellion.”

It is sometimes suggested that Bashir is losing his grip on his own ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP), according to Egbert Wesserlink of the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), a grouping of pro-peace organisations.

“Very senior members of the National Congress Party have been very openly distancing themselves from al-Bashir and have been kicked out of the party,” he observed. “You see unease within the hardcore Islamist supporters of al-Bashir who have trouble with corruption. Some people are making a lot of money. The closer you are to al-Bashir and the more loyal you are to his party, the better your economic prospects are.”

In the party conference that endorsed his candidacy before the April elections, Bashir barely managed to get more than 50 per cent of the votes in the NCP’s “legislative assembly” (Shura Council).

Since he first came to power in 1989, Bashir has presented himself as being above the fray, mediating conflicts between the security establishment and the political elite, managing to avoid coups and popular uprisings.
 

Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011