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Dispatch

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

Thomas Isbell and Elmogiera Elawad 5 Nov 2019 Sudan
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Key findings
  • Between 2013 and 2018, in the final years of the al-Bashir regime, the proportion of Sudanese who said their country was “a democracy with major problems” or “not a democracy” grew from 59% to 69%.
  • During the same period, support for democracy as preferable to any other form of government grew to 62% while opposition to one-man and one-party rule increased to 72%. Rejection of military rule also increased, from a minority (39%) to half the population (50%).
  • As of 2018, eight in 10 Sudanese (79%) favoured choosing leaders through regular, open, and honest elections, but only about half (52%) said that the country needs many political parties. Most respondents (77%) supported a two-term limit for presidents.
  • A majority (55%) of Sudanese prioritized accountability over efficiency in government. Two-thirds (65%) said the president should be bound by laws, and 55% said the president should be accountable to Parliament. Six out of 10 (61%) supported media freedom from government interference, a 12-percentage-point increase since 2013
  • Two-thirds (65%) of Sudanese said their country should be governed primarily by religious law, but the same majority (66%) would grant non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims.

Now that sustained popular protests have ended former President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade 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, and a growing majority supported 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.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

Elmogiera Elawad

Elmogiera Elawad is the Director of Sudan Polling and Statistics Center.