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Efforts Towards Restoring Constitutional Order and Democratic Transition in Sudan

Despite strong international support, Sudan's political process has received mixed domestic reactions, ranging from traditional pro-democracy actors strongly supporting it, to grassroots movements that oppose any direct negotiations with the military leaders.

On August 8, 2022, the Sudanese Bar Association (SBA) brought together a wide range of stakeholders to break the political deadlock the country is facing, and to discuss a constitutional framework of Sudan’s prospective democratic transition. The initiative kicked off a prolonged process expected to lead to adopting a constitution for the transitional phase of the country, as well as the launch a two-phase process entailing a Political Framework Agreement, and an ongoing[1] final political process that should lead to a final agreement on Sudan’s prospective democratic transition. Despite strong international support, the process has received mixed domestic reactions, ranging from traditional pro-democracy actors strongly supporting it, to grassroots movements that oppose any direct negotiations with the military leaders.

Following a months-long popular uprising, the authoritarian regime of President Omar al-Bashir was toppled down in April 2019 when the Sudanese military decided to side with the demands of the Sudanese people and seized power through a coup d’état, suspending the constitution and dissolving all governance structures. In August 2019, the military leaders signed a power-sharing agreement, the Constitutional Declaration replacing Sudan’s 2005 Interim Constitution, with the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella group representing civilian, political, and armed opposition groups. The agreement established a three-year transitional period that entailed various transitional processes. Two years into the transitional period, the Sudanese military breached the Constitutional Declaration and orchestrated a coup in October 2021, which in effect abruptly halted the fragile transition that was supposed to pave the way for elections in 2023. Ever since, Sudan has been without a functioning government and a constitutional framework. The country entered a complicated political impasse. Despite brutal security crackdowns, the massive protest movement has continued to take to the streets on a near-weekly basis.

The Sudanese Bar Association’s Draft Transitional Constitution

Following the coup in 2021, multiple international and regional mediation initiatives, mainly led by the trilateral mechanism of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), the African Union (AU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), have been working on ending the country’s political deadlock, with little success. Furthermore, in July 2022, the Sudanese military announced it would refrain from participating in the dialogue regarding the political process, to allow civilians to reach an agreement among themselves. On the back of that, the SBA organized a three-day “Transitional Constitutional Workshop” in August 2022, in order to establish a Sudanese-led initiative aimed at resolving the political crisis. The main issues discussed in the workshop were the tasks entrusted to the transitional government, the duration of the transitional period, transitional governance structures, and the role of the military and security institutions during the transitional period. The workshop was described as an inclusive initiative and was attended by representatives from political parties within the FFC alliance and beyond. It was also attended by representatives from the Sudanese civil society, native administration leaders, religious leaders, and members of the international community, including senior representatives from the UN, the AU, the IGAD, and the European Union.

The workshop concluded with a set of recommendations and was followed by the formation of a committee to draft the transitional constitution. The draft transitional constitution was shared by the SBA in September 2022, and is intended to govern the transitional period, during which the government should embark on a proper comprehensive, inclusive, transparent, and participatory constitution-making process to create a constitution. The draft constitution has a comprehensive framework that tackles all issues concerning Sudan’s democratic transition, including government structures, bill of rights, governance system, and roles of the security sector, among other issues. The draft was welcomed by Sudanese political actors who were part of the bar association’s workshop and by the international community, who also suggested that more work was needed to ensure inclusivity and participation of all stakeholders. However, various resistance committees, the main actors mobilising the streets, denounced the initiative fearing that it would not serve the revolution’s demands.

Political Framework Agreement

Despite the enthusiasm around the SBA’s draft constitution, there were debates about the sequence of the process. Various actors suggested that it was essential to come up with a political agreement first in order to provide a framework to appoint the transitional government and adopt the transitional constitution. Thus, 40 parties, including political parties, armed movements, professional associations, civil society, and Sudan’s military, signed a Framework Agreement in Khartoum on December 5, 2022.

The agreement aims at guiding Sudan’s civilian-led transition towards elections and criminalises military coups. It pledges a two-year transitional period and the appointment of a civilian prime minister by the political parties that signed the Framework Agreement. It also stipulates full civilian authority at all levels. On paper, the agreement consists of four sections: general principles, transition issues and tasks, transitional authority structures, and security institutions. The general principles section suggests that “Sudan is a civilian, democratic, federal, parliamentary state in which sovereignty is for the people who are the source of powers, and in which the rule of law and the peaceful transfer of power through free and fair elections and the equitable division of wealth and resources, prevail.” It also emphasises on instating “one national professional army, committed to the unified military doctrine and carrying out its duties in the framework of protecting the nation’s borders and defending democratic civilian rule.”

Even though it was welcomed by numerous international stakeholders, it was condemned by the resistance committees who staged a protest while the signing ceremony was taking place. A few other political actors expressed reservations on the agreement. Furthermore, some of the families of protesters who were killed during the revolution declared their rejection of the agreement, worrying that the agreement will compromise justice.

Final Political Process

Building on the Framework Agreement, Sudanese actors entered a new decisive phase when the UNITAMS-AU-IGAD Trilateral Mechanism launched the final political process in January 2023. This phase of the process is dedicated to conducting workshops to discuss contentious issues that have caused fractions during previous negotiations. The workshops address the issues of dismantling the former regime of Omar al-Bashir, reviewing the Juba Peace Agreement (JPA), the crisis in Eastern Sudan, security sector reform, and transitional justice. The process is expected to result in reaching consensus on these issues, paving the way for a final and fair political agreement that leads to a civilian-led government that will manage the transitional period. The process should also aim to build broader support around the final agreement and the new constitutional arrangements, restoring Sudan’s democratic transition.

Participants of the final political process have concluded the discussions on the dismantling of the former regime, the review of the JPA, the crisis in Eastern Sudan, and transitional justice, and published the outcomes and recommendations of the concluded workshops, while preparing for the final workshop on security sector reform. Furthermore, discussions are underway to win the support of actors who are currently opposing the final political process, including some armed movements, political parties, and resistance committees. As soon as these issues are finalized, the Sudanese actors should be ready to sign the final political agreement that will restore Sudan’s democratic transition. The final political agreement is currently being drafted on the basis of the SBA’s draft transitional constitution, the Framework Agreement, and the recommendations that came out of the convened workshops. The final political process spokesperson announced that they plan to sign the final political agreement on April 1, and adopt the transitional constitution on April 6, while the new transitional government is expected to be formed on April 11.

Despite the ongoing political and constitutional processes, the security situation is still volatile and the country suffers from serious governance and constitutional vacuums. It remains unclear how and if the political agreement will succeed in restoring constitutional order and putting the country back on the democratic transition track, with various groups continuing to contest the process still.

Hamid Khalafallah is a Nonresident Fellow at TIMEP focusing on inclusive governance and mobilization in Sudan.

This analysis was originally published as a feature piece in Issue 1 of the Rule of Law Developments in the Middle East and North Africa newsletter, produced by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Rule of Law Programme Middle East & North Africa and TIMEP.

[1] Ongoing as of the writing of this analysis on March 24, 2023.


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