Khartoum- Altaghyeer staff:
One of the most pivotal and pressing question facing the Umma party in this crucial circumstance in its history is who will be the successor of the late party leader, Sadiq al-Mahdi? Who will be the next Imam (imam is a title given to the person who leads the Anasar sect).
Leading figures in the Umma party, who spoke to “Altaghyeer”, were not willing to discuss these issues extensively now. The party is chaired temporarily by Major General (Rt.) Fadlallah Burmah Nasser, who was its vice president. According to the constitution of the party, the leader must be elected by the general assembly and if it wasn’t possible to be held, the “central committee convenes to take important decisions, including election of the general secretary”.
Despite the institutional reforms led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, including drafting of constitution, rules and regulations on how leaders should be chosen, these reforms did not succeed in achieving the party’s independence from the al-Mahdi’s family. Some observers believe that Sadiq al-Mahdi’s family continues its influence on the party and succession process.
Will Umma party’s institutions nominate candidates who don’t belong to al-Mahdi’s family for the role? What are their chances?
Hatem Babiker al-Mahdi, a political analyst, says that “Not preparing a new leadership to succeed him is one of the weaknesses and failures of Sadiq al-Mahdi”.
“The Umma party may nominate one of Sadiq al-Mahdi’s sons to succeed him in the party and the Ansar sect to prevent splits. However, there are no guarantees to keep things as they were during al-Mahdi’s era as he was a very distinguished person and it is difficult to have a successor with similar levels of acceptance,” he explained.
He also points out to alternative solutions such as assigning the party’s leadership to a collective leadership at least for a transitional period till naming Ahmed al-Mahdi, uncle of Sadiq al-Mahdi as the Imam of the Ansar sect, and Seddiq al-Mahdi, Sadiq’s son as leader of the Umma party, saying that “This is one of the solutions that may be met with wide acceptance among followers of the Ansar sect and members of Umma party, and preserve the party’s unity”.
The late Sadiq al-Mahdi had earlier said that he will retire from politics and devote himself to writings and intellectual activities. These statements shocked his supporters as they associate the party with Sadiq al-Mahdi, who was able to unite the party and prevent splits. During Sadiq al-Mahdi’s leadership, the party did not search for an alternative, instead they pressured him to drop the idea of retirement.
Ashraf Othman, a political analyst and researcher in political parties’ affairs, told “Altaghyeer” that no one in the party or the Ansar sect has Sadiq al-Mahdi’s capabilities, which makes it difficult to find a successor to lead both entities as al-Mahdi used to.
Othman said that al-Mahdi presented his daughter, “Mayam al-Sadiq to political life, and she was close to liberal and left forces in the opposition. It was an attempt to work with all parties bearing in mind his son, Abd al-Rahman, was an assistant to the deposed president, Al Bashir, to prepare him for power”.
“There are two options; the first is his son, Abd al-Rahman while the second is his daughter, Maryam, which represents the more likely alternative as she was not part of al-Bashir’s regime and has strong relations with the transitional authority, ” said Othman.
Othman believes that there are “confusing overlaps” between the Umma Party, the Ansar sect and Al Mahdi family, and he expects the party to separate the sect from the party because Maryam can’t lead both.
Othman doesn’t rule out possibility of splits in the Umma Party after the passing of Sadiq al-Mahdi, who fought to maintain cohesion despite many attempts by dissents, capitalizing on his charisma. He was even able to mitigate conflicts with political opponents outside his party.
It seems that being leader of the party for too long as well as being elected prime minister twice following popular uprisings made Sadiq al-Mahdi undisputable choice for party and the Ansar leadership. Under such leadership, it was unimaginable to think about a successor. The Umma party may pay a hefty price for not preparing leaders who have similar to public acceptance.
Khaled Badr al-Din, a researcher at the Center for Leaders Training and Human Development, said that the Umma Party and the Ansar have relied on Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi since he was thirty years old when he competed with his uncle, Imam Al-Hadi to gain the leadership. “Umma Party has to be a political party independent of the Ansar sect with a political project instead of depending on Sadiq al- Mahdi’s personality and image”.
“What is the Umma Party’s project now? Even if the party select a successor, he/she will miss the spiritual and political weight of Sadiq al-Mahdi. Abd al-Rahman has no involvement in intellectual activities like his father and may seem like a senior employee from a reputed family at the helm of the party and sect,” Badr al-Din added.
He believes that “It’s likely that the Ansar sect and Umma party to accept Maryam al-Sadiq as a leader because traditions are not in favor of a female in command.”
“The solution is to turn the sect to be for all Sudanese, and modernize the party to meet aspirations of young people of December 2018 uprising,” said Badr al-Din, who thinks that
Sadiq al-Mahdi saved the party from conflicts faced by main rival, the Khatmiyya, who suffered from disputes with strong business leaders in Democratic Union party, as al-Mahdi managed to lead the party and sect harmoniously.
Among nominated successors is Seddiq al-Mahdi, Saddiq’s son. Seddiq, in charge of the economic files in the Umma Party, comment often on economic issues, but has no strong relations with other political forces similar to his sister, Maryam.
Hatem al-Mahdi believes that Seddiq al-Mahdi is one of strong candidates to succeed his father in the party leadership, especially if Ahmed al-Mahdi is chosen as the leader (imam) of the Ansar sect.
Hatem does not exclude the possibility of having former party leader, Mubarak al-Fadil, as contender for the party and the Ansar sect leadership, although his chances are thin because he lacks support of influential figures in the party and Mahdi family.
The selection of a new party leader is most pressing than Imam of the Ansar sect, because the latter seat could remain vacant for years as happened after the passing of Imam Al-Hadi in 1970 till appointing Sadiq al-Mahdi as Imam in 2002. During this period, the Ansar’s commission took care of the religious entity’s affairs, while the party’s leadership could not be vacant. It is necessary to agree on a new leader in a complicated political circumstances in the transitional period.