Sudan: The Final Pieces of the Political Transition Fall Into Place

4 MINS READAug 21, 2019 | 19:32 GMT
The Big Picture

After the April 2019 ouster of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, the country's military and civilian stakeholders began talks to form a transitional government. While violent crackdowns on civil protests marred the negotiation process, a series of agreements have emerged, with the final piece announced Aug. 20. While the public and international media have hailed the agreements as a civilian victory over military rule that have set Sudan on a path toward democracy, the deals leave the military with a strong hand.

What Happened

The Sudanese Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change (respectively, the military officers who overthrew President Omar al Bashir and the opposition group representing civilian protesters) announced a final agreement naming members of the country's Sovereign Council. The 11-member body will guide Sudan ahead of national elections, planned for 2022. Previous agreements already had outlined the composition of legislative and executive bodies that would rule Sudan ahead of those elections. The swearing-in of the Sovereign Council, the appointment of the country's new prime minister and the dissolution of the military council on Aug. 21 thus mark an important milestone in Sudan’s transitional process.

Why It Matters

The decisions the new governing bodies will make over the next few years will define not only Sudan's next regime but also its future alignment in a geopolitically dynamic region. Al Bashir's overthrow set in motion a complex interplay of interests competing to influence the transitional process. The military that had predominated under al Bashir's government found itself forced by ongoing domestic protests and pressure from foreign interests to participate in a transition of power to civilian rule. But while the new structure of the transitional process has effectively put civilians in control, the military retained a significant degree of independence and enough power to check civilian political decisions. The opposition groups that now lead the Sudanese transition will certainly be able to radically reform Sudan's institutions, but, as during al Bashir’s rule, the military maintains the ability to safeguard its direct interests, including alignment with its beneficiaries in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Distribution of Powers

Civilian representatives form a majority in each political entity formed during the negotiations. The military, however, holds the power to effectively veto any political appointment made during the transitional process, allowing it to keep civilian rule in check. While the military holds just five of the 11 seats on the Sovereign Council, the body's decisions must be approved by a two-thirds majority, meaning that at least two military council members must concur. Thus, the military holds the power to block individual appointments of regional governors as well as all members of government, the legislative council and the country's supreme and constitutional courts.

The Sudanese military retains the ability to resist any significant reform of the security apparatus that would weaken its power.

Besides having a strong voice in who will serve in the government formed under new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the military will directly appoint the defense and interior ministers who will preside over Sudan's security establishment. The defense minister will direct military policy, while internal security, including the intelligence agency, falls under the authority of the interior minister. This would allow the military to resist any significant reform of the Sudanese security apparatus that would weaken its power, not to mention giving it the ability to exploit the country's security structures to further influence or hijack the political process. The extent to which it actually exercises those abilities will define just how well Sudan manages to progress through a stable transition. Nevertheless, the foundations for the military's continued role in Sudanese politics has clearly been engraved in the current agreements.

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