By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling party has given final approval to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as its candidate in next year’s presidential vote, sealing his bid to extend his rule after 25 years in power.
Wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court, Bashir has reason to fear his future should he leave office as he would have to entrust his fate to a successor. He can now cast those fears aside.
National Congress Party leaders endorsed Bashir by a 94 percent margin at a party conference late on Saturday. Senior leaders had already eliminated four rival party candidates in an earlier vote last week.
The formal endorsement confirmed what many in Sudan had expected: Bashir would break his promise to step down and not run for another term in April 2015 polls.
Though the 70-year-old Bashir pledged in January to redraw the constitution, bring opposition parties into government, and launch a national dialogue, no visible progress has been made.
The few active opposition movements in Sudan are already losing hope of any change in the political climate and some have recently announced their plan to boycott the presidential vote.
Dire economic conditions since the secession of the oil-rich southern half of the country in 2011 — including inflation that currently hovers around 40 percent — anger struggling citizens.
However, some Sudanese feel they cannot trust alternatives to Bashir, who has proven himself a political survivor, fighting off coup attempts, civil wars, and international isolation.
Sudan was placed on a U.S. sanctions list in 1993 for harboring “international terrorists” and is under international sanctions for actions during the conflict in the Darfur region that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2003.
In 2009, that isolation deepened when the ICC issued arrests warrants against Bashir. Nations like Kenya were criticized by the United States — itself not party to the ICC’s Rome Statue — for hosting him.
U.S. President Barack Obama notified U.S. Congress on Friday he was extending sanctions on Sudan that began with an emergency declaration in 1997. In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said that Sudan’s policies and actions pose an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.
But there were no complaints after Bashir’s visit to Cairo this month. Egypt, concerned over militants capitalizing on chaos in post-Muammar Gaddafi Libya next door, has said it will coordinate efforts with Sudan in order to stabilize Libya. Sudan and Egypt share a border with Libya.
Perhaps sensing a changing dynamic, Bashir struck a confident tone in remarks at the conference, telling party members that he believed his country’s isolation was ending.
“Many bodies were counting on Sudan being isolated, but we are seeing an opening in our external relations,” he said.
He cited his recent visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, saying that they “removed the doubts” and “returned things to normal”. He also said that Arab states were funding government projects, thereby helping Sudan avoid having to resort to conditional loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Sudanese media outlets reported earlier this month that Sudan had secured financial support from Saudi Arabia following Bashir’s visit, but did not cite details.