Sudan: Ruling Party in Damage Control Mode After Bashir's Speech

Khartoum — Officials from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on Tuesday scrambled to contain negative reactions arising from president Omer Hassan al-Bashir's address to the nation yesterday which created a wave of disappointment within the political class and ordinary citizens alike.

Prior to the speech, senior NCP figures gave multitude of suggestions that Bashir will unveil a major and comprehensive reform proposal that would be inclusive of all political forces to tackle Sudan's growing crises.

Hours before Bashir made his speech, Rabie Abdel-Aati a senior NCP figure told Reuters that the president would use the live television address to call for opposition groups to help redraw the constitution and join the government.

But the speech offered no concrete initiatives and gave no timeframe for achieving what Bashir described as a plan to launch a "Sudanese renaissance" and while he did say political parties should join dialogue on the constitution, he did not go further.

Many Sudanese who watched Bashir speak were stunned by the complicated language of the speech which used overly-sophisticated phrases and appeared unusual from a president known for making plain-language fiery speeches.

In a rare scene, opposition figures including former prime minister and head of the National Umma Party al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Hassan al-Turabi and recently defected NCP figure who formed the Reform Now Party (RNP) Ghazi Salah al-Deen al-Attabani sat in the front rows at the event which was held at the Chinese-built Friendship hall in Khartoum.

All three made statements either personally or through their parties criticizing the lack of specifics and excessive generalities that gave no real signs of concessions on the part of the ruling party.

Immediately afterwards, the NCP's political secretary and the country's investment minister Mustafa Osman Ismail sought to temper the disappointment by saying that Bashir initially sought to make the speech after first meeting with leaders of political parties.

But as a result of intense speculations, Ismail said that Bashir was forced to address the nation earlier than he wanted to.

Today, Bashir's assistant and NCP's deputy chairman for party affairs Ibrahim Ghandour announced that the president will make a follow-up speech after his return from the African Union (AU) summit taking place in Addis Ababa.

Ghandour said the new address will explain in more details the first one.

He also defended the language of the speech saying it was not meant for the general public but to lay down a party document so it was carefully worded so as not to depart from the context.

The Sudanese official said that the submission of the document in the name of the government is not fair because non-NCP parties did not participate in drafting it.

He noted that the NCP did not provide mechanisms for resolving Sudan's problems to give political parties the opportunity to make their own suggestions.

The parliament speaker al-Fatih Izz al-Deen on the other hand said that the speech's articulate language and its need for further clarification does not discredit it as they are simply general guidelines.

He further said that the address is unique in that it made national issues a shared responsibility and not exclusive to the NCP.

"It is not necessary for people to be within the government so they can express their views on national issues... what is needed is institutionalizing mechanisms that we could agree on whether they are committees or bodies or boards," Izz al-Deen said.

He denied the existence of frustration among Sudanese people over the speech and asserted that a quick survey revealed general satisfaction with it.

The chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee in parliament Mohamed Yusuf Abdullah acknowledged the existence of a faction within the ruling party which insists that it should not make any concessions before opposition does so first.

A leading figure at the PCP told Sudan Tribune today that an influential group within the NCP amended Bashir's speech at the last minute to prevent the president from making any grand bargain.

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