Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s decision last week to release all the nation’s political detainees can be seen as a possible indication of plans to contest 2020 elections.
At the time, Sudan’s official SUNA news agency said the amnesty would help foster “political and social dialogue” between the country’s rival political camps and contribute to an “atmosphere of harmony”.
In 2014, al-Bashir launched a national dialogue initiative that went on for two years. While some political groups and rebel movements boycotted the talks, a number of others participated.
In a move ostensibly aimed at fostering “national unity”, al-Bashir last Tuesday responded to calls by dialogue participants to release all of Sudan’s political detainees.
Some observers attribute the move to al-Bashir’s intention to contest 2020 presidential elections.
In a recent statement, Information Minister Ahmed Bilal said the political parties that make up Sudan’s current ruling coalition would support the president’s bid for a third term in office.
Seen in this light, the decision to release political detainees could bolster al-Bashir’s prospects in the upcoming polls.
Financial considerations may also be involved.
Ever since South Sudan seceded from its northern neighbor in 2011, Sudan has suffered a major foreign currency crisis.
This is attributable to the fact that 75 percent of Sudan’s traditional oil resources — which had accounted for 80 percent of its foreign currency revenue — ended up going to South Sudan.
Some observers see al-Bashir's recent prisoner amnesty as a political maneuver aimed at distracting attention from the country’s ongoing financial woes.
Sudan's 2018 budget — which has a $4 billion deficit, equal to 2.4 percent of GDP — has led to fluctuating dollar exchange rates. This has led in turn to rising commodity costs and reduced purchasing power.
While many indicators suggest al-Bashir will indeed contest upcoming polls, he will nevertheless face a raft of obstacles, including a moribund peace process, proposed constitutional changes and sought-for reconciliation with the Sudanese opposition.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara