Sudan’s SPLM begins electoral campaign

Dec 26, 2006 (Reuters)

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), former rebels from the south, have begun to transform their guerrilla group into a national political party, registering tens of thousands of members in north Sudan.

A January 2005 peace deal ended Africa’s longest civil war in south Sudan and paved the way for power and wealth sharing and democratic transformation. The SPLM leadership formed a coalition government in Khartoum.

"This is the first time in modern history that southern Sudanese politicians are undertaking a political campaign in the north," said Yasir Arman, the SPLM’s deputy secretary general.

The north-south peace deal stipulates presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of 2009 and the SPLM has been the most active party to date registering members in the north.

Arman said the party had covered all the states of the north, except for the remote western Darfur region, where a separate conflict is raging.

The SPLM had elected secretariats in all the states and registered tens of thousands of members in the past few months.

It has more than 25,000 members in White Nile and more than 45,000 in Jazeera state, areas traditionally dominated by northern parties.

Deng Goc, a senior southern SPLM member who has led some of the electoral campaigns, said they encountered a few problems holding rallies in one northern region, Kordofan.

"National security gave us problems, and the electricity was switched off, but in the end we managed to have a large rally," he said.

There was little political freedom after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir took power in a bloodless coup in 1989.

But since the north-south peace deal, Sudan has enjoyed a more liberal political atmosphere and many exiled political parties have returned.

Despite the improved political environment, a separate conflict still rages in the remote western Darfur region.

The SPLM was shaken by the sudden death in a helicopter crash of its leader John Garang just three weeks after he took office in 2005 as Sudan’s first vice president.

Garang was often dubbed the only southerner who was truly a national leader, recognised by both northerners and southerners in a nation whose history of north-south conflict stretches back to 1955.

His vision was of a unified Sudan under two governmental systems — one for the Arab dominated, Muslim north and another for the mostly non-Arab, Christian or animist south.

In 2011 the south will have a referendum on whether to secede from the north. But preparations are slow for a census, vital for successful elections and the referendum.

"We hope the census preparations will really begin in 2007," Arman said.

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