Sudan’s President Omar Hasan Al Bashir addressing the opening of the eighth session of the Parliament in Khartoum, yesterday.
KHARTOUM: Sudan’s President Omar Hasan Al Bashir yesterday talked of reform and political dialogue after the most serious split in years within his ruling party.
“Reform and change is a daily process for us,” he said in a speech opening a new session of parliament.
His comment came four days after an investigative committee within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said that three party dissidents should be expelled.
The trio, Fadlallah Ahmed Abdallah, former sports minister Hassan Osman Riziq, and ex-presidential adviser Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani were key signatories of a memorandum which criticised the regime’s deadly crackdown on protests in September.
Abdallah announced on Saturday that all of the more than 30 prominent reformers who signed the memorandum to Bashir were forming a new political party.
Critics within the NCP had raised concerns even before the September demonstrations, which were sparked by price rises after the government slashed fuel subsidies.
Those concerns included allegations of corruption and a drift from Islamic values, but analysts have said the NCP is not serious about considering divergent opinions.
They say the spontaneous demonstrations pointed to an urgent need for reform by a government grappling with wars, dissension within its own ranks, economic crisis and international isolation.
The protests, in which dozens died, were the worst urban unrest under Bashir’s 24-year rule.
In his speech, the president said he wanted a review of all state institutions, from sports to social and political, but he did not elaborate.
He repeated a call first made in April for a broad dialogue with all political parties, even with armed groups.
He urged rebels who have been fighting for 10 years in the Darfur region to sign a peace agreement, and renewed a plea for insurgents in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states — where rebellion began two years ago — to return to talks.
“I announce we are going to establish a national peace council so that we can have a peace initiative in this country,” Bashir said, again without elaborating.
Following the protest crackdown, an African diplomat said that Bashir would probably push for political dialogue as part of some “fiddling at the edges”, minimal reforms to provide a “semblance of legitimacy” for elections set for 2015.
In his speech, the president said he hoped those elections would be fair and transparent.
“Any development in constitution or peace-building will have a positive impact on the election environment,” said the leader who is wanted internationally for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
Atabani, the most prominent of the dissident NCP members, was until recently a member of the party’s leadership bureau, is a former presidential adviser on Darfur, and was a minister of information.
Neither he, Abdallah nor Riziq were present in parliament for Bashir’s speech to the nearly-full chamber of about 350 deputies, many of them wearing traditional white jalabiya robes.
Most of Bashir’s cabinet members and assistants also joined him in the chamber.
The three leading dissidents were NCP MPs but Abdallah said they would resign to set up their new party, details of which they have yet to reveal.
The split by Atabani’s group is the most serious defection from the ruling party since 2000 when the Islamist Hassan Al Turabi, a leading figure behind the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power, broke away and formed the opposition Popular Congress.
The Atabani group had sought an independent probe of the shooting of civilians during the protests, and for a reversal of the fuel price increases. They called for “professionals” to take over economic policy, an end to press censorship, and respect for constitutional freedoms including peaceful assembly.
Bashir made no reference to the dissidents during his address, but he said the government has a three-year programme of “economic reform”.
He hinted that press censorship would ease now that the situation “has returned to normal” after the protests. “This has left open the door to review the exceptional measures against the media,” he said.
The government initially said it had detained 700 “criminals” after the protests. “We have evidence against 58 people and we are going to bring them to court,” Bashir said.
In early October, Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said about 200 people were expected to face trial.AFP