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International Relations

Sudan’s ruling military council and representatives of the pro-democracy movement have signed a power-sharing agreement, signalling that its disputed transition to civilian rule is on track. Ever since President Omar al-Bashir’s fall in April amid anti-regime protests, the military leaders who seized power and the protesters have been on a confrontational path. The protesters’ demand for an immediate transfer of power to a civilian transitional government to be followed by free and fair elections was resisted by the powerful, deeply entrenched military. As the stand-off continued, a paramilitary unit attacked protesters in Khartoum on June 3, killing at least 128 people. But protesters still didn’t give up. This, along with pressure from the African Union and foreign countries, appears to have convinced the generals they could not anymore amass absolute power, as they did under Mr. Bashir’s three-decade-long rule. Ethiopian and African Union mediators brought both sides for talks and they reached the power-sharing agreement. Under the deal, a sovereign council of 11 members — five military and five civilian members and one to be selected based on consensus — will rule for over three years. A general will lead it for the first 21 months and a civilian leader for 18 months. The security apparatus will be controlled by the military; the ministries will get civilian leaders.

While this agreement clearly charts a new course for the crisis-hit country, it doesn’t guarantee a smooth transition from military to civilian rule. There still exists deep distrust between the generals and the pro-democracy movement. When protests erupted in December over soaring food prices, Mr. Bashir used multiple tactics, from oppression to introducing changes in the Cabinet, to control the situation. But he had to go as the generals turned against him in April. The military council then had an opportunity, like the military in Tunisia after the fall of the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, to return to the barracks and let the civilian leadership assume power and shape the country’s future. But Sudan’s military not only refused to give up its powers but also massacred the protesters who challenged them. Even though both sides have now agreed to share power, the finer details of the agreement are yet to be hammered out. It is to be seen how the transitional government would find a balance between the military’s quest to retain its privileges and the revolutionaries’ demand for change. It is still not clear whether the military is ready to support a full democratic transition. The framing of a new Constitution will be another challenge as there are different power centres with conflicting interests. More important, there has to be an independent investigation into the June 3 violence, and whoever is responsible should be brought to justice. Then it will at least be a good beginning for a long journey to democracy and accountability.

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