BY SHASHI MALLA
• Germany: Political Winds of Change
German Chancellor [prime minister] Angela Merkel’s centre-right Conservative bloc – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister-wing, the Christian Social Union (CSU) – slumped to a record low and fell further behind the resurgent opposition “Greens Party” in a survey published Saturday, reflecting growing disillusionment with the ruling grand coalition of the CDU/CSU and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) (Reuters).
Doubts are mounting that Merkel can hold together her centre-right-centre-left grand coalition until the end of its full term till 2021. Not only is her conservative bloc under attack from the far-right and the Greens, but her coalition partners, the Social Democrats are also in disarray, and performed dismally in the latest elections to the European parliament. However, the centre-left – the Socialists and Social Democrats – have been wiped out in France and Italy, and UK’s Labour Party is also in a muddle.
The latest poll put the Conservative bloc on 24 percent, down two points from a week ago. Respondents put the far-right “Alternative fuer Deutschland” (AfD) ominously at 13 percent, even ahead of the centre-left SPD at 12 percent. A week earlier, Ms. Andrea Nahlesthe leader of the SPD and its parliamentary group resigned because of dismal performances in the regional elections of the Bremen city-state and the European parliament. Many SPD-members now want their party to quit the federal government and reconstruct and regenerate in opposition. There is the widespread conception that it has been playing second fiddle to the CDU/CSU.
The Greens, encouraged by growing concern across Europe about climate change, which was instrumental in catapulting them to second place [in Germany] in the European Parliament elections, shot to 26 percent (one point ahead of CDU/CSU) and the most popular party in the perception of the general populace. According to the survey: “The Greens are benefitting from higher voter mobilization, the self-destruction of the SPD and attempts by the conservatives to trump the Greens on climate protection.”
The next election test comes in September and October, when regional assembly elections take place in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia, three eastern German states [formerly part of Communist East Germany] where the far-right AfD is expected to make a good showing.
• United States: Trump Impeachment: Inevitable, Inescapable, Inexorable
Even if US President Donald Trump cannot be removed from office, because of the complications of the American political system, the time is now more than ripe to “impeach” or charge him for gross misuse of power and acutely damaging US national interests. Even if the lower house of the US Congress, the House of Representatives impeaches him, ultimately, he will be saved by the Republican majority in the Senate, which will act as a virtual court of law trying Trump, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. The impeachment proceedings will be the one instance where all three branches of US government are in full play at the same time and the same place.
There is an overwhelming prima facie case for impeaching Trump. He has abused the US Constitution and damaged the high office of the presidency. He is a living threat to hallowed American principles. His policy failures and missteps on the domestic front have also affected the pursuit of foreign policy.
The Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi who must take the initiative is still hesitating. If not the nation as a whole, the majority of Democratic voters overwhelmingly support impeachment. One Republican representative has also become very active.
Trump is a bully and at heart a coward. He is deeply afraid of impeachment proceedings, although giving the impression that he welcomes it! In fact, he balked at the suggestion that Congress might move to impeach him: “To me it’s a dirty word, the word impeach. It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word” [CNN].
*Sudan at the Crossroads
A military junta seized power in Sudan in April this year after generals ousted long-time military dictator General Omar Hassan al-Bashir on the back of months-long civilian protests against his thirty years’ draconian rule. The authoritarian dictatorship lasted such an eternity only because the military had propped it up. A second lesson was that rule by a military junta seldom brings material benefits to a country. That is why there were sustained efforts by the enlightened populace to withstand furtherance of military rule.
Sudan was formerly Africa’s largest country. It was divided in 2011 into a northern part, the Republic of the Sudan, with a predominantly Arab population and the smaller southern part, the Republic of South Sudan with a population of about 8 million people of mainly African ethnic origin (Dinka, Nuer, Karo and other Nilotic tribes).
The independence of South Sudan was the culmination of a six-year prolonged process that ended a long brutal civil war that caused the death of millions. In the eastern part of Sudan, a conflict still rages between the Islamist, Khartoum-based national government and two rebel groups based in Darfur, the “Sudan Liberation Army” and the “Justice and Equality Movement”.
The Republic of the Sudan has a population of 38.4 million people (in 2015). With an area today of 1,886,068 sq. km., Sudan is the 16th largest country in the world, more than five times the size of Germany, or slightly less than one-fifth the size of the United States.
Sudan is located in north-eastern Africa between Egypt and Eritrea, bordering the Red Sea in the north-east. It is bordered by Libya in the north-west, by Chad in the west, by the Central African Republic in the south-west, by South Sudan in the south and by Ethiopia in the south-east
The Sudanese military has extensive experience in domestic repression, and at the same time, having profited to a great extent from being in office, the military were loath to give up the trappings of office. Since ousting al-Bashir, they have by twists and turns adamantly resisted calls from protesters and Western nations to transfer political power to a civilian administration. Several rounds of talks with the leaders of the demonstrations and civil society finally broke down in mid-May.
At the beginning of last week, there was a brutal crackdown by men in military fatigues on a weeks-long peaceful sit-in that left dozens of demonstrators murdered. There was little doubt that the cold-blooded assault was led by the feared/hated “Rapid Support Forces” (RSF) who have their origins in the “Janjaweed militia” unleashed in the conflict in the western region of Darfur in 2003/2004. The most powerful man in the capital is reputed to be Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan [known as “Hemeti”], the commander of the RSF – even if the junta is formally led by another general, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, of the regular army. “Hemeti” has the backing of powerful external patrons in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have showered him with funds, weapons and ‘advice’. (International New York Times, June 11, 2019).
In a bid to achieve a peaceful resolution of the domestic conflict, the “Organization for African Unity” and the neighboring state of Ethiopia have been particularly active. The Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed flew to Sudan’s capital Khartoum last Saturday on a reconciliation mission and held separate meetings with both the military holding on to power and the civilian leaders anxious to oust them.
After the meetings, Abiy made very reasonable statements to diffuse the charged atmosphere, but without any attempt to blame any side: “The army, the people and political forces have to act with courage and responsibility by taking quick steps towards a democratic and consensual transitional period.” He continued to reassure and encourage: “The army has to protect the security of the country and its people and political forces have to think about the future of the country” (Agence France Presse/AFP).
However, the army generals showed their true colors by having two prominent rebels and an opposition leader arrested soon after they met Abiy as part of a delegation representing the protest movement. Opposition politician Mohamed Esmar was seized Friday, while a leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), Ismail Jaalab was taken from his home early Saturday. The SPLM-N spokesman Mubarak Ardol was also detained.
Esmat and Jalab are both leading members of the “Alliance for Freedom and Change”, which brings together opposition parties and some rebel groups with the organizers of the mass protests which have gripped Sudan since December last year. Their arrests will definitely further complicate any efforts to reconcile the protest movement and the generals, who have shown a lack of good faith.
Following last week’s murderous suppression, chances of a quick democratic transition appear remote as protest leaders now reasonably demand that talks with the generals could resume only if they meet certain pre-conditions. This is easier said then done, because first, the generals seem to be hopelessly divided among themselves, and second they are united only in their reluctance to divest themselves of power. After all, they were willing accomplices of the former despot.
A prominent protest leader Omar al-Digeir, told reporters after meeting Abiy that the “Transitional Military Council” has to acknowledge the crime it committed and all “military elements should also be removed from the streets across the country “ and called for an international probe into the massacre at the sit-in.
UK’s [the former colonial power’s] ambassador to Sudan, Irfan Siddiq supported the opposition’s viewpoint on Twitter: “In diplomacy, dialogue is everything and pre-conditions for dialogue are generally not a good idea. But after what happened on 3 June, these…conditions for returning to talks seem eminently reasonable.”
Pro-democracy activists have now called for a nationwide “civil disobedience” campaign to run until Sudan’s ruling military council transfers power to a civilian government. This was announced by the “Sudanese Professionals Association” (SPA), an umbrella group of 17 different unions representing doctors, journalists and lawyers, among others. (Deutsche Welle/DW).
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]