20 March 2017

Sudan: Constitutional Amendments Set National/ Popular Congress Foreseen Partnership Into Jeopardy

Khartoum — A heated tug of war has dominated the political scene over the proposed constitutional amendments put forward by the Popular Congress Party(PCP) of the Late Islamist leader Dr. Hassan al-Turabi.

At issue were Turabi's controversial proposals calling for the freedom of faith and thought, the liberty of a woman to marry whomever she deems suitable with or without the consent of her guardian and the freedom of all sorts of expression. The PCP operatives argue that the amendments pertaining to the liberties document were not their own and were, rather, part of the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference and were, by that definition, mandatory.

The PCP proposed amendments were vehemently challenged by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), a matter that put the former to a harsh test that may oblige it to terminate its morphing relationship with the government and push the party back towards the opposition.

The PCP was launched in 2000 after its leader Turabi fell out with President Bashir over constitutional amendments also. Turabi had, then, proposed giving the different states of the country the right to directly elect their rulers, among some other issues. The conflict between the two groups had led the late Turabi to be jailed several times.

Warning to Withdraw:

The National Dialogue has delved into a new crisis after the PCP has threatened to pull out and return to the opposition if the National Assembly(parliament) were to introduce changes into the package of constitutional amendments recently tabled before it that seek to squeeze the jurisdictions of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and improve the liberties dossier.

The PCP commitment to the amendments paper springs from the fact it was part of the will of its late Leader Hassan al-Turabi. The Party argues that the late Turabi had drafted the amendments and bet on them. It is because of these proposed amendments that Turabi had justified his stay in the National Dialogue regardless of the ups and downs that the Dialogue had underwent and the hurdles that faced it, argues the Party. Turabi's disciples and Party leaders were so adamant about those amendments which they considered "a red line" that should not be crossed. "Not a single coma should be added to the amendments," in the words of one of the PCP leaders.

For its part, the NISS stood its ground about its existing jurisdictions : " The NISS will not disown its basic functions and has, rather, augmented and would augment the possession of power," charged NISS Director, Lt. General Mohammad Ata.

Political analyst Mohammad al-Amin thought it " difficult to effect a change in the Security's responsibilities" noting that " the calls for changing those responsibilities of the security had failed since the days of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the SPLM/SPLA in 2005. Even the NISS Act could not be amended, he argued.

"The Government had often faced local and foreign pressures to squeeze the movements of the security and reduce its jurisdictions all of which (the pressures) went unheeded," he said.

Disagreements and Differences:

The PCP amendments have unleashed a lot of differences and were rejected by a number of religious groups, foremost the Sudanese Scholars Organization and Islamic Jurisprudence Authority, the two of whom had considered the amendments concerning the right of marriage and the freedom of faith a deviation from Saria'a (Islamic law).

The amendments concerning the jurisdictions of the Security that sought to confine the role of the Security to the collection of information had also raised a lot of controversies.

The Turabi amendment regarding the right of marriage proposes that " marriage between a male and a female can take place on mutual consent and the couple can conclude a contract to this effect either directly or through deputyship."

The amendment regarding the authority to put a citizen under arrest states that " it is impermissible to arrest or detain a person, save in case of the violation of the articles of the penal code that penalize with imprisonment. The accused should be informed about the offence within one day after his arrest.

The amendment on the right of faith and thought states " the right of every person to choose a religious faith, practice any religious ritual, organize a religious festival and have a place of worship he chooses. Nobody should be forced to adopt a certain religion or a certain faith. He/she should not be prohibited from dialogue or argumentation in the defense of what he believes."

Scholars Hit Back:

The Islamic Jurisprudence Authority has considered Turabi's amendments supplement on the liberties document an allowing of infidelity and a renouncing of Islam, leads to a chaos that creates more discord, feuding and fighting. The Authority has categorically rejected the supplement's particulars. The Ansar al Sunna group went in the same direction and rejected the Turabi supplement.

The parliament's interim committee on the constitutional amendments has listened to the views of the aforesaid groups and those of other bodies on the proposed amendments. The parliamentary interim committee has received a memo from the Islamic Jurisprudence Authority in which the latter motioned a clear objection to the majority of the proposed amendments that reached the parliament a month before, after the NCP and the PCP had agreed to table them before the parliament. In that context, representative of the Islamic Jurisprudence Authority, Member of the Sudan Islamic Scholars Organization and member of the Islamic Jurisprudence Authority Abdeljaleel al-Karouri has considered the PCP proposed amendments supplement "a contravention of Islamic Sharia'a and should not be approved or passed by the parliament."

Karouri said the Authority was about to file "an integrative, religiously documented and detailed vision about the constitution articles to the parliament in the near future."

The liberties document objected to by the Islamic Jurisprudence Authority is part of the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference.

Ms. Badriyya Suleiman, chairperson of the parliaments interim committee on constitutional amendments, has said her committee had listened to the views of Scholars Organization, the Jurisprudence Authority, the Ansar al-Sunna group, the Sufi groups and civil society organizations about the proposed constitutional amendments, saying discussions had centered on the issues of rights and liberties particularly with respect to the issue of the presence of the guardian in the writing of wedding contract, the freedom of faith, the hadds (punishments) of apostasy and adultery.

Warning and Justification:

For the PCP the constitutional amendments were not a new thing. They are part of the output of the National Dialogue Conference agreed upon by the Dialogue six committees.

In this regard PCP political secretary Kamal Omar warned that his party would pull out the Dialogue and would abstain from joining the upcoming national unity government if these amendments would be scraped.

Omar urged the government to stick to the Dialogue recommendations." These recommendations are mandatory," he said, further arguing that the Dialogue recommendations were not the making of the PCP.

"They were the consensus of all the Dialogue participants. They are a political agreement, a national contract" he stressed.

Bashir's Arguments:

In the meantime, President Bashir has supported the view of the religious views opposed to the constitutional amendments recommended by the National Dialogue.

Bashir has considered some of the amendments religiously erroneous saying he was opposed to them 100 percent.

Speaking to the press, Bashir has criticized the PCP's defense of the amendments, saying " there was no logic in the PCP presenting amendments and asking us to take or leave them."

"If that is the case, why did we open a dialogue..we could have imposed our standpoint .. we could have told the others to accept what we say ..we have asked others to come forward with ideas for discussion.. we consider what the PCP is proposing quite wrong from the perspective of Islamic jurisprudence," he argued.

Sharp Criticism:

Version of the constitutional amendments tabled by the ruling party have received sharp criticism from the opposition parties taking part in the National Dialogue that considered them representative of the party's views and a neglect of another 36 amendments agreed upon by the Dialogue participants. "The 36 amendments should be the priority of any government as they contain 9 amendments related to public liberties while four others pushed for the shrinking of the Security's responsibilities," argue those parties.

The Government amendments have upset the PCP that also faced strong differences within its ranks when some of its leaderships signed a memo rejecting the government amendments.

Further, those leaderships had urged the Party to pull out from the Dialogue. That was before the Party's general secretary Ibrahim al-Sanoasi could meet the disgruntled leaderships to remedy the situation. In addition, Sanoasi had reaffirmed that the Party would not take part in the proposed government of national unity if the Turabi thoughts were not embodied in the constitution.

For his part PCP leading figure Abubakr Abdelraziq has disclosed that they were surprised by a call for a meeting of the Dialogue parties from which President Bashir was absent and was replaced by assistant to the President Ibrahim Mahmoud who produced a paper containing the government amendments which was later tabled before the parliament without the consent of the Dialogue member parties.

He said they had rejected those amendments because they had contravened what had been agreed upon before." It was supposed that each member party should bring its own draft for discussion and after that the members could agree upon a a unified legal manuscript that could be endorsed by the parliament without any change," he said.

" The government amendments were no less than a meddling with what was agreed upon," said Abdelraziq, hinting that the amendments were drafted "without the President's knowledge by a current inside the ruling party which is opposed to the National Dialogue and forcefully works to abort it."

He said the government version had ignored 9 amendments related to the issue of public liberties which were drafted by the PCP leader Turabi before his sudden departure in February 2016.

"The Dialogue recommendations are a red line and there is no national concord without their implementation in full," added Abdelraziq, stressing that " if the amendments are not included as we wish, we will consider the National Dialogue as if it had never existed."

" The government amendments are but a reproduction of the national salvation regime now with a more fortified dictatorship," he said.

The leading bureau of the ruling National Congress Party had, in a recent meeting, set up a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Nafi Ali Nafi to discuss the problem, remedy the situation and appease the apprehensions of the PCP.

In his turn PCP member Ammar al-Sajjad, who chairs a committee within his party to support the National Dialogue, has disclosed that President Bashir had intervened to cool down the amendments crisis and had asked the parliament to extend its session in order to discuss the supplementary amendments which were not embodied in the draft constitution.

But the ruling party has denied any tendency to extend the parliament session conceding, however, that the PCP had received a promise to look into their proposed amendments and that a meeting with the President would convene to discuss the crisis.

The ruling party has said the amendments would most probably be considered in the parliament's next session in June or July.

Assistant to the President Ibrahim Mahmoud is arguing that the PCP proposed amendments about the public liberties were, in fact, embodied in the existing constitution and that the PCP amendments can be considered after the formation of the government of national unity.

Observers expect the showdown between the PCP and the NCP would soon fade away and that the PCP would not withdraw from the proposed government of national unity. The observers build this view on the fact that there is an unannounced agreement between Bashir and PCP general secretary to that effect. The observers think the personal relationship between Bashir and Sanoasi is capable of removing any differences that may occur.

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