October 30, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – An official with Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) warned opposition parties on Tuesday against objecting to an Islamic foundation for the country’s next constitution.
- A Sudanese woman stands in front of an electoral poster for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (The Guardian Website)
Speaking to reporters in the capital Khartoum, NCP leading member and minister of investment Mustafa Osman Ismail said that the Islamic current is the dominant one among Sudanese people and therefore should form the basis of the next constitution. “We don’t want any disagreement over that” he said.
Ismail comments reflect the growing polarization in the country over the issue of the constitution that should replace the current transitional one which was installed in 2005 following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the mainly Christian South Sudan.
As South Sudan hurtled towards its independence, which took place in July last year under the CPA, a number of NCP officials, including the country’s president Omer Al-Bashir made remarks suggesting that the country should create a new constitution on the basis of Islamic Shariah laws, citing religious homogeneity in the country after the secession of the south.
The main opposition coalition National Consensus Forces (NCF), which comprises the National Umma Party (NUP) of former Prime Minister Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Islamist Popular Congress Party (NCP) of Hassan Al-Turabi among others, rejected an invitation by President Omer Al-Bashir last month to participate in a meeting to discuss the constitution.
NCF allies argue that the current political climate is not suitable for such a critical process, pointing to lack of freedoms, NCP absolute control of state institutions and the ongoing wars in the peripheral regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Opposition parties demand, therefore, that the constitution-making process takes place under a transitional government representing all political parties and armed groups. They also argue that the NCP has no legitimacy to supervise such process citing their boycott of, and alleged fraud in, the 2010 general elections which the ruling party won.
The NCP official stressed the importance that opposition parties clarify their position on the Islamic premise of the constitution since most people in Sudan favor this premises without risking the rights of religious minorities.
Adding to the controversy surrounding the constitution is the existence of a coalition of Islamist groups, the Islamic Constitution Front (ICF), which is lobbying the government to create a puritan version of an Islamic constitution. The ICF threatened on more than one occasion to mobilize the masses against the government if it fails to create a proper Islamic constitution.
NCF allies did not make a clear stance over the issue of an Islamic constitution but they once accused the NCP of seeking to use Islamist groups to create a constitution that ignores religious and ethnic diversity in the country.
Ismail said that the dialogue with opposition parties over the next constitution will not witness any disagreements over the issues of governance structure and freedoms if the opposition demonstrated enough seriousness to engage in the process.
The NCP official denied opposition’s allegation that his party is trying to single-handedly create a constitution that would consolidate its grip on power. “If we were rushing to do it we would have already proposed a draft constitution and made use of the absence of other parties. But this is not our way” Ismail said.
He added that his party is keen to secure enough consensus around the constitution hence their attempt to include opposition parties. Ismali said that if certain “considerable” parties agreed to join the process of constitution creation, it will start.
The NCP has been trying to bring the NUP to the constitution-making process. On 22 October, NCP member and second Vice-President Al-Haj Adam Youssef held talks with NUP leader Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi at the latter’s house in Omdurman. Youssef expressed hope after the meeting that the NUP would agree to participate in the dialogue over the constitution.
Few days later the NUP announced the formation of a committee under the chairmanship of Al-Mahdi to discuss whether or not to accept NCP invitation to participate in the talks over the constitution.