The Popular Consultation: Recipe for a new conflict in the Nuba Mountains
By Dr. Gandul Ibrahim Gandul (PhD)
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Naivash, Kenya, accorded a special protocol to Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile States to resolve the conflicts in these regions. (1) The key and controversial element in the protocol is the Popular Consultation, which is viewed by many as an ambiguous proposition. In a nutshell, it was intended to create two states within the Northern Sudan boundaries, and with a special status, but the question is: will these states ever enjoy this ‘special status’ and survive, or will more violent conflict erupt? The answers to these questions are difficult to ascertain. Without indulging into the complex definitions and types of Popular Consultation, it is defined in the constitution law as ‘public deliberation by the people making decisions as electoral body and as legislator to exercise a form of political participation’. However, one form of Popular Consultation is referendum decision which is ‘a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to eitheraccept or reject a particular proposal which may result in the adoption of a specific government policy or proposal’. Viewing these two terms as being an outcome of democratic processes, it is straightforward to deduce that the Popular Consultation given to both Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile states is deficient of the element of ‘the direct vote of the entire electorate’ to either accept or reject a proposal. It is, therefore, similar to Grassroots Democracy in which power of decision-making is in the hands of the state assembly as opposed to referendum decision or Consensus Democracy where the broader range of opinions is taken into account, thus ensures citizens’ participation in the process.
As the time for the full implementation of the CPA and the enactment of Popular Consultation draws nearer to the finishing line, tensions have grown enormously high among the public and the signatories alike with the general sentiment among the public in the two states that the CPA has failed to effectively redress the root causes of the conflict in their contested areas. Their disappointment with the CPA is epitomized in this skillfully and vaguely orchestrated Popular Consultation, causing division among people about it. Some views it as self-determination or its terms will eventually lead to self-determination; others see it as a full autonomy, while the third group categorically disapproves the notion of Popular Consultation as the CPA has proved to be ungenerous to grant them the right to take a shot at independence, notwithstanding the call for a united New Sudan on new bases.
In order to undermine the debacle of Popular Consultation, a study tour to Indonesia in 2009 to draw lessons from Indonesia’s East Timor experiences with choice of independence and local autonomy was initiated. It was the right initiative even though it is was irrelevant to compare Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile cases to that of East Timor, because the pillars of modality for East Timor’s Popular Consultation were iterated in two questions to the voters within and outside East Timor. They are: (1) “Do you ACCEPT the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, OR (2) Do you REJECT the proposed special autonomy for East Timor, leading to East Timor’s separation from Indonesia?”(2) Contrary to East Timor’s, the “Legislative Assembly representatives” of the two states (separately) will decide on the “shortcomings in the constitutional, political, and administrative arrangements stipulated in [the] CPA”. It is not a choice between independence, being part of the North or even part of the South (as the case with Abyei); the two areas will essentially continue to be within the unitary republic of Sudan, regardless of the outcome of Popular Consultation process, and whether or not the reasons for the conflict were resolved. Therefore, the first group’s view of self-determination is out of question, at least for now. The more relevant view is the full autonomous status, which is comparable to Indonesia’s Aceh region.(3) A member of the delegates to Indonesia had noted positive observations from Aceh’s autonomous experience and drew valuable recommendations, which can be applicable to Sudan’s case. But, because of the lack of political will by the Sudan Government to resolve the issues that led to the armed struggle and its unwillingness to furnish the workable modality, these precursors for “self-rule” could be destined to failure.
Revisiting the Popular Consultation Act, which was passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by president Omer al-Bashir, it indicates that the act clearly reflects haziness therein and devoid of logical and practical implementation mechanisms for the Popular Consultation to take place. For the sake of discussion, we shall treat two key articles in this truncated and a nine-page document to demonstrate its blemish.(4) The first is article 2 (2) regarding the source and scope of application, which is full of redundancy and gibberish. It states that “the provisions of the law are to be applied in order to organize and exercise (activate) the right of the peoples of Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile [states] through their respective democratically elected legislative assemblies in achieving their peoples’ constitutional, political, administrative and economic aspirations included [in the] CPA to resolve the conflict in the two states”. Critical review of the entire original protocol and tailoring it to the real situation on the ground indicate that none of the peoples’ aspirations has been fulfilled. The articles of the protocol are continually being violated. For example, the elections to elect both the Governor of the State and the gubernatorial Legislative Council have been postponed until the census is completed. This requirement was completed, but its results to determine electoral constituencies, completing voters’ registry for conducting the vote were shelved for months until October 26, 2010. The results were released after tremendous pressures on NCP. The outcome of the census is, however, below the expectations but it was almost double the number of 2008 census (2,508,268 vs. 1,400,000). This delaying tactic highlights doubts that the Popular Consultation may never take place. It only undermines the formation of the gubernatorial Legislative Assembly whose responsibility is to form a commission (article 6 of the Popular Consultation Law) that is charged with determining whether or not the aspirations of the respective peoples have been satisfied. In the best case scenario where elections were to be held, there are no guarantees that the SPLM would win the majority seats; it is highly unlikely that the forthcoming Legislative Assembly would endorse the protocol as satisfactory to the people. Whatever the case might be, the indicators point at violating the key constitutional right of exercising the Popular Consultation embedded in article 182 (2) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of Sudan.(5)
Article 5 enumerates the objectives of Popular Consultation. The clause regarding the “correction of any deficiencies in any constitutional, political, administrative and economic arrangements specified in [the] CPA framework of the two states”(6) is very interesting and puzzling, because it would be a fallacy to believe that the National Congress Party (NCP) would heed, or agree to renegotiate or modify the terms of the protocol in favor of the people in a month or two months as stipulated in article 15 (c) and (d) of the Popular Consultation Act; respectively, given the feet-dragging treachery and reluctance to honor pacts it signs. Furthermore, the area has been heavily militarized in violation of article 10.1 of the protocol, which states that the “Sudan Armed Forces troops levels in Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile [states] during the Interim Period shall be determined by the Presidency”. Unilateral massive deployment of Sudan Armed Forces without the consent of the presidency brings a grim outlook for the people of the two states. More importantly, insecurity and inaction on development have led many to believe that they were better off before the signing of the CPA.
This is partly because the NCP has no interest and incentives in indulging itself with such an exercise, regardless of any outcome of referendum. It is quite possible that this protocol and its ailing provisions will not get to its final destination, given the aforementioned circumstances; it is just a matter of time before it is declared null and void when the Interim Period ends by July 2011. The pessimistic view is that the CPA will not survive to the end where the people of South Sudan could exercise voting for their political destiny without hurdles.
Based on the above mentioned circumstances we appeal to the people of the state of South Kordofan regardless of their ethnicities, beliefs and political affiliations to embrace on unity and honestly correctly review the reality on the ground without bias or dictates from outside the state to determine the shortcomings in the implementation of the Protocol on the resolution of the conflict in the state. In short, thorny and bumpy roads are still ahead to climb. And the dream of creating two states in the North with “Special Status” is but to dissipate and evaporate.