Sudan ruling party, opposition split over constitution

From The Washington Times, April 20, 2011:

Southern Sudan will become Africa’s newest nation in July, but politicians are already squabbling among themselves and worrying Western supporters who hoped for a smooth passage to democracy after the continent’s longest civil war.

The ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) excluded most opposition parties from a committee to draft a temporary constitution. Some advocates for democracy fear that move could foreshadow the creation of just another one-party government in Africa.

“It does not appear that the process has been that open. So, unfortunately, it is not developing into a great story yet,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on background.

“There is a lot of concern given the track record of other African countries where there is a trend for single-party liberation movements that become entrenched after independence or elections. Clearly that is something to watch out for in Southern Sudan,” the official added.

The real test for the government will come when it begins to draft a permanent constitution.

“That’s when the fireworks will fly,” said a Western official based in Sudan, who also spoke on background to freely discuss developments.

The SPLM and the opposition disagree on the length of the transition period, which begins on July 9 when the south gains independence, and power-sharing arrangements in a new government.

The committee Wednesday presented its constitutional recommendations to Salva Kiir, President of the Government of Southern Sudan, who will open a seven-day public comment period before submitting the document to the legislature. He hopes to sign an interim constitution on July 9.

Southern Sudan started life with a great promise of democracy. More than 98 percent of voters endorsed independence from Sudan in a January referendum with a turnout of more than 3.8 million.

The election was part of a peace treaty with the government in Khartoum, ending a civil war of nearly 21 years that killed at least 2.5 million people and displaced another 5 million.

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