A new deal between former southern rebels who hope to secede in 2011 and a northern opposition group could threaten President Omar al-Bashir's grip on power if fair elections are held next year.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Sudan's crucial presidential and parliamentary elections – a possible milestone for peace in a country rattled by two decades of civil war – appear to be well underway.
This week, a former southern rebel group that now shares power in Khartoum with its northern rivals signed a memorandum of understanding to form an electoral alliance with a northern opposition group, bringing the strongest-yet challenge to the rule of President Omar al-Bashir.
The very fact that the southern rebels, the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, have a campaign strategy for the 2010 elections is a hopeful sign, since the SPLM is thought to be preparing itself for a referendum in 2011 that could give southern Sudan its independence. But in the meantime, SPLM leaders are willing to fight for power in a unified Sudan, this time with votes rather than with weapons of war.
"There are a number of hopeful signs for this election," says Abdul Rahim Ali Mohammad Ibrahim, a political analyst who has close ties to Mr. Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP). "The leaders of the SPLM are saying openly that they want to stay in a united Sudan, although a number of people in their party do not feel the same way."
Like many observers, Mr. Ibrahim says the SPLM's alliance with the northern-based Umma Party of former Sudanese Prime Minster Sadiq al-Mahdi should be seen more as a symbolic gesture of mutual support against a common political enemy.