Bashir elected as 2020 NCP’s Presidential Candidate

Published 17th August 2018

On Friday 10 August 2018, Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP) chose President Bashir to run as their candidate in the 2020 elections. Bashir has been in power since 1989 and in 2020 he will be 76 years old. The current Constitution provides for a two-term limit and the National Congress Party’s Charter also has similar restrictions. Both will have to be amended to make Bashir’s 2020 candidacy a legal possibility- a move that is unfortunately very common in many African countries.

Whilst serving as a colonel in the army, Bashir came to power in 1989 in a bloodless coup that saw then Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi lose power to this very ambitious colonel. Bashir’s new military government suspended all political parties, dissolved parliament and began a process of introducing Islamic law into the national legal code. In 1993 Bashir was appointed President and three years later, in 1996 elections were held. Although there were no political parties at the time, 39 other candidates ran as individuals against Bashir. He reportedly secured 75.4 percent of the vote though the elections were clouded with allegations of irregularities.

In 1998 Bashir introduced a new Constitution that allowed the formation of political parties. That same year he flexed his military muscle to oust his former ally, Hassan al Turabi ,whom he suspected of trying to topple him. Bashir also had to deal with the Sudan’s People Liberation Army who had been fighting for independence from Khartoum for several years. They eventually succeeded resulting in South Sudan becoming an independent nation in 2011 and Africa’s newest country.

Sudan’s first multi-party elections were held in 2010. Reports of intimidation and rigging were rife as Bashir allegedly clinched 68% of the vote, marking the commencement of another 5 year presidential term.

In 2015 elections were held and Bashir was declared victorious having secured 94% of the vote. Once again, allegations of electoral fraud, and the suspicious withdrawal of the main opposition parties raised questions about the credibility of his victory.

In addition to dubious election results, Bashir’s reign has been characterised by brutality, racism, inequality, crimes against humanity and genocide. Bashir stands accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of five counts of crimes against humanity including, murder, extermination, torture and rape. Two counts of war crimes including intentionally attacking civilians, pillaging and three counts of genocide. These allegations have their roots in the context of the Darfur War, which has seen the death of at least 300 000 people and displacement of millions.

Sudan under Bashir’s leadership has seen a handful of individuals prosper economically whilst the majority languish in abject poverty and endure grave human rights violations. If Bashir’s last few years in office are anything to go by then this bid for an additional term in office may spell further disaster for many of the Sudanese people. If he should step down, (unlikely but let us for a moment dabble with this fantasy) it could also change the international criminal justice landscape as those nations who have failed to arrest Bashir, as required by the ICC, will no longer be able to hide behind the claim that he has immunity as a sitting head of state.

To run again in 2020 the Constitution must be amended, a move, the Consultative Counsel of the NCP is reportedly willing to make. One prominent member, Amin Hassan Omer has voiced his concern about these dangerous amendments.

Bashir would not be the first African leader to do whatever it takes to stay in power. President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi is another example. His desire to stay in power by seeking an unconstitutional additional term led to nationwide outcry and protests in 2015. The state’s response was heavy-handed and violent leading to the alleged commission of crimes against humanity including murder, persecution, rape and torture.

Under Ugandan President Museveni’s watch the Constitution was amended in 2005 to remove presidential term limits allowing him to continue his reign. This year a court upheld the amendment that removes the presidential age limit of 75. Museveni is 73 years old and intends to run for elections again in 2021.

Rwanda’s Kagame may stay in office until 2034 if he so desires after a 2015 referendum was conducted and a majority of Rwandans voted in favour constitutional amendments of presidential term limits allowing him to run for another term in office.

Presidential term limits are an essential part of democracy and the erosion of the concept in many African countries is bringing nations to ruin. As aptly expressed by Barack Obama “Africa’s democratic progress is at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end… when a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game, just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife.”

**This article appeared in the Star Newspaper on 16 August 2018

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