Sudan's Draft Constitution signed

Today — 129 days after the ousting of Omar Al-Bashir in a popular uprising that began in December 2018 and included unspeakable violence against nonviolent protesters — Sudan's Draft Constitutional Declaration was signed and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) was dissolved, marking the first step towards civilian rule following 30 years of dictatorship.

The agreement on the Draft Constitution, which defines transitional state bodies and procedures, was the result of a process of continual pressure of protesters and negotiations between their representatives, the Forces of Freedom and Change (a coalition of civilian parties and civil society groups) and the Sudanese Army.

The agreement replaced the TMC with a Sovereign Council composed of 11 people: 5 military, 5 civilian, and 1 neutral figure agreed upon by both parties. Of the 11 members, 3 are women. The military is chairing the Council for the first 21 months of a 39 month transition period, and the civilians will chair it for the remaining 18 months leading up to national elections (the long transition period was a victory for the pro-democracy movement).

The Sovereign Council collectively acts as the President, but all decisions have to be made with two-thirds majority, rendering its executive power, in practice, nearly obsolete. Thus executive powers will be exercised in practice by a Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a civilian economist who was sworn in on August 21st. In the ensuing few weeks, Hamdok appointed 16 of the 18 member Cabinet and 2 ministers were chosen by the Army (defense and interior). Prime Minister Hamdok selected his ministers from the list of nominations given by the FFC, many have a background in rights activism and all are experienced and widely respected technocrats. Four of the 18 ministers are women.

But perhaps the most reassuring appointment for protesters was the naming of Neimat Abdallah Kheir as Chief Justice, heading the judicial branch of government, which for the past 30 years had been used by the Bashir regime as a tool to suppress dissent and lock up opposition figures. The independence of the judiciary is now restored with the appointment of Chief Justice Abdallah, who has never been a part of a political party and who was nominated by the judges’ professional association, which was part of the protest movement that ousted the brutal dictator. Abdallah was initially nominated following the August 17th Draft Constitution agreement, but then the Sovereign Council attempted to name someone else to the post. Public protests led the Council to reverse course and appoint her as chief justice on October 10.

Appointment of the transitional legislative council will be done by the Cabinet by the end of 2019 and this interim council will serve until replaced by elected legislators in three years.

These are the first milestones in the long, rocky climb towards democracy in Sudan. But there is much reason for hope as at each step of the way so far, the values of freedom, equality and pluralism have persevered. Sudan has shown the world a successful new model for nonviolent uprising leading to democratic transition and the effects are already rippling across the region and the world.

The progress is being met with celebration, but also a great deal of skepticism by the public. There is widespread distrust of the military members of the Sovereign Council, who are hold-overs from the past regime, and frustration with the limited role of women so far in the transitional government despite being 70% of protesters in the streets over the past 10 months. We welcome this sentiment because a prudent public, constantly engaged in monitoring the military, the Council and all transitional bodies, is the only real guarantor of successful democratic transition.