Sudan swears in new PM as Bashir bemoans economic woes

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir walks with officials as he leaves an African Union summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania. (Reuters)
Updated 10 September 2018
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Sudan swears in new PM as Bashir bemoans economic woes

  • Bashir fired the incumbent prime minister and cabinet on Sunday
  • Moutaz Mousa Abdallah took the oath of office at the presidential palace

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir swore in a new premier on Monday in a bid to ease an economic crisis, and lambasted alleged efforts to “block” his country from foreign markets.
Outgoing irrigation minister Moutaz Mousa Abdallah took the oath of office at the presidential palace, after Bashir fired the incumbent prime minister and cabinet on Sunday.
The 31-member cabinet is to be slashed to just 21 portfolios, as the country grapples with an acute foreign exchange shortage and inflation above 65 percent.
“The current economic situation results from an economic embargo and a plan to block the country from accessing foreign resources,” Bashir said in a televised speech on Monday.
He did not say which country or countries he believed to be behind this alleged plan.
But there is resentment in Sudan that the United States has kept the country on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, despite ending two decades of sanctions in October.
The long trade embargo severely undermined Sudan’s economy, which was dealt another hefty blow when oil-rich South Sudan seceded in 2011.
Sudanese officials say international investors will remain wary of re-engaging, so long as the country remains on the US terror watch list.
Abdallah replaces Bakri Hassan Saleh, who will retain the post of first vice president.
“There’s no need to have a huge government at a time when the people are struggling to afford even basic items,” Bashir said.
“Now we are talking with friends to launch specific projects that would improve the livelihoods of our people and balance Sudan’s economy,” he said.
Food prices have more than doubled since last year on the back of the high inflation rate, while the Sudanese pound has plunged against the US dollar.
“I want to thank the people for their patience even as they faced these economic difficulties,” Bashir added.
“Some thought that these economic difficulties would trigger social tension, but the patience of our people stopped this from happening.”
In January, there were sporadic anti-government protests against food prices, but the authorities swiftly curbed them by arresting opposition leaders and activists.
In September 2013, dozens were killed when anti-austerity protesters clashed with security forces after the government cut fuel subsidies.
The World Bank has urged Sudan to implement structural reforms to revive its ailing economy.
Economic growth averaged over six percent during the decade to 2008, but it has since declined.
The economy grew 3.2 percent in 2017, according to the IMF.
“Our appointments are part of the economic reforms to help President Omar Al-Bashir,” said Mohamed Osman Yousif Kiber, who was sworn in as a vice president on Monday.
“We know the difficulties and what is to be done to resolve the current situation,” he added.
Analysts said Bashir’s cabinet overhaul indicated he was responding to the crisis.
“He realized that the government had failed and that it had no policies to resolve the crisis,” said Khalid Tijani, editor of economic weekly Elaff.
The success of the new cabinet will depend on what policies it formulates and who else is appointed, Tijani added.
“If the same old faces — some of whom have been there for 30 years — return then that would create a negative perception among the people.”


Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

Updated 24 September 2018
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Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Polling booths in the Maldives closed Sunday after voting hours were extended in a controversial election marred by police raids on the opposition and allegations of rigging in favor of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen, who is expected to retain power, has imprisoned or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Critics say he is returning the honeymoon island nation to authoritarian rule.

The process is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations. The European Union and US, meanwhile, have threatened sanctions if the vote is not free and fair.

Many voters across the Indian Ocean archipelago said they stood in line for over five hours to cast their ballot, while expatriate Maldivians voted in neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

The elections commission said balloting was extended by three hours until 7 p.m. (1400 GMT) because of technical glitches suffered by tablet computers containing electoral rolls, and officials had to use manual systems to verify voters’ identities.

An election official said the deadline was also extended due to heavy voter turnout, and anyone in the queue by 7 p.m. would be able to cast their ballot.

“Eight hours & counting. Waiting to exercise my democratic right! Let’s do this, Insha Allah!” former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

Maumoon, who is also the estranged niece of Yameen and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, cast her vote at a booth in the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called “illegal activities.” There were no arrests.

Yameen’s challenger, the relatively unknown Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also cast his vote.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but who now lives in exile, urged the international community to reject the results of a flawed election.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago — famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons — were eligible to vote in an election from which independent international monitors have been barred.

Only a handful of foreign media have been allowed in.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign was heavily tilted in favor of 59-year-old Yameen.

Local observers said the balloting itself went off peacefully and most of the delays were due to technical issues. Results are expected by early Monday.

The government has used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom have been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

Yameen told supporters on the eve of the election he had overcome “huge obstacles” since controversially winning power in a contested run-off in 2013, but had handled the challenges “with resilience.” 

The crackdown attracted international censure and fears the Maldives was slipping back into one-man rule just a decade after transitioning to democracy.

The US State Department this month said it would “consider appropriate measures” should the election fail to be free and fair.

The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve.

India, long influential in Maldives affairs — it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt — also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

However in recent years Yameen has drifted closer to China, India’s chief regional rival, taking hundreds of millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects.