AD326: Sudanese voice support for elections, accountability, limits on presidential powers

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Thomas Isbell and Elmogiera Elawad

Now that sustained popular protests have ended former President Omar al-Bashir’s threedecade rule and achieved a power-sharing agreement among the military, civilian representatives, and protest groups (International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2019; AP, 2019; BBC, 2019; Morgan, 2019; DW, 2019), Sudan confronts the opportunities and potential pitfalls of shaping its political future.

The transition promises to be anything but easy. Economic problems that sparked initial protests in 2018 (Isbell & Elawad, 2019) still await complex solutions, and the state bureaucracy remains weak. How will the military and the clergy, both important players in Sudanese politics of the past, interact with democratic aspirations for the future?

In this dispatch, we use Afrobarometer survey data collected between 2013 and 2018 to explore what Sudanese citizens might be looking for as the new regime takes shape. Importantly, the most recent data were collected in July-August 2018, prior to the protests that would eventually upend the country’s political scene. These findings thus reflect attitudes and perceptions as they evolved during the final half-decade of al-Bashir’s rule, rather than up-to-the-minute opinions, which may well be influenced by recent events.

Nonetheless, these findings shed light on basic popular attitudes and perceptions on which the emerging system may be able to build. We find that as of mid-2018, Sudanese were widely supportive of democracy and the rule of law, and were growing increasingly critical of the extent of their own democracy. Most saw elections as the best way to choose their leaders and supported limiting their president to a maximum of two terms. They increasingly valued government accountability over efficiency. But only a minority expressed support for media freedom.

Most favoured a state ruled primarily by religious law and saw no contradiction between democracy and the teachings of Islam. But a majority also opposed religious leaders interfering with voters’ decisions.