Sudan: Omar al-Bashir gets a tough challenger

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Former Sudanese leader, dethroned by president Omar al-Bashir in a 1986 coup d’état, has declared that he plans to run against Mr. Bashir in the pending presidential elections. 21 years after he was ousted from power, Sadiq al-Mahdi has returned with a manifesto to restore peace in Darfur.

Mr. Mahdi, 74, heads the influential Umma party and is the spiritual leader of “Ansar,” a Sufi brotherhood that worships the famous Mahdi who defeated British colonial forces under General Gordon in 1885. The Umma party is the main opposition party in the north of Sudan.

Announcing his candidacy, Mr. al-Mahdi who was ousted by Mr. Bashir in a bloodless coup, promised to resolve the tensions in Darfur, and urged Sudanese to vote in their best interests.

“I have not been fired by the people; I have been fired by the guns. Now it is possible for the people to reinstate whoever they believe represents their interest, and aspirations,” Mr. al-Mahdi was quoted.

Dismantle totalitarianism

Mr. al-Mahdi has said that there is a possibility of ending the troubles in the Darfur region where thousands of black Africans have been killed by Arab militias, in what the west has often called, genocide. He has vowed to bring an end to totalitarianism in Sudan, and resolve the conflict in Darfur should he win the elections in April.

“Darfur can be resolved if there is sufficient political will, if there is sufficient political leadership,” Mr. al-Mahdi said.

“We think our program is going to dismantle totalitarianism, is going to resolve all the problems of the peace agreements and create conditions for Sudan united on new principles or neighborhood between two sisterly states,” he added.

Over three-hundred thousand people were killed in the Darfur conflict, according to UN estimates and Mr. Bashir is wanted on an international arrest warrant for war crimes in the region. However, his government denies accusations that it is backing the militias who have carried out the killings.

Mr. al-Mahdi stands little chance according to popularity polls, as Mr. al-Bashir is widely expected to win the election. Nonetheless, analysts believe Mr. Mahdi’s presence could give the forthcoming April elections real legitimacy.

The polls are part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war between north and south Sudan.

Mr. Mahdi descended from Sudan’s legendary Islamist ruler. His party won Sudan’s last multi-party elections in 1986 before he was overthrown the same year by Mr. Bashir.

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