OPINION: Sudan seeks to fall into US favour

Days after a handshake ended a half century of US enmity with Cuba and weeks after Washington ended 36 years of daggers drawn with Tehran by striking a deal limiting Iran's nuclear enrichment capacity, Sudan is voicing expectations of being next in line for better treatment by the last remaining superpower.

The country made it onto the US terrorism list for, among other things, sheltering Osama Bin Laden and stayed on that list because of its harsh suppression of separatism in its western province of Darfur. Sudan's president Omar al Bashir is still wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity in Darfur.

But in 2011 it accepted the secession by South Sudan, earning kudos from Washington and the international community at large.

On Monday, 13 million registered voters head for the polls for presidential, parliamentary and state elections which the Sudanese government is at pains to demonstrate are free and fair.

It is doing this in the face of a boycott by a small but vociferous group of parties who maintain Bashir has stalled on the political dialogue he launched at the start of 2014.

Washington, together in the western troika on Sudan with Norway and Britain, has criticised holding the election before the promised national dialogue.

The European Union holds that this timing undermines the legitimacy of the process.

This provoked an angry response from Khartoum that the EU stance amounts to spiritual support for armed rebel movements fighting the government in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces.

The Sudanese government says it's constitutionally obliged to hold elections now. Its statement stipulates that it will return to national dialogue after the poll.

The dialogue was necessitated by violent protests against Bashir in 2013 that left a number dead.

Nafi Ali Nafi, who as presidential advisor until last year was considered the third most powerful man in Sudan and is now a parliamentary candidate, says the dialogue was bogged down in procedural issues raised by the opposition.

"They were not interested in engaging on substantive matters," says Nafi. "They were insisting on the government dissolving and becoming a transitional administration. In other words, they wanted their prize even before the talks proper started."

Bashir, who came to power via a coup 25 years ago and subsequently won two elections, has further complicated matters by going back on an undertaking not to seek another term.

"That was not his decision to make," insists Nafi. "It is a matter for the ruling National Congress Party to decide."

While there is a significant body of international opinion dismissing the poll as a sham, Washington is coming around to the view that Bashir is the best of a number of bad options.

US sources say the strongman manages to maintain stability in a dangerous neighbourhood.

By supporting the government in Yemen against mounting rebel attack, Sudan is squarely onside with the US.

Above all, though, the fear in Washington, and indeed in other Western capitals, is of a repetition of the Libyan nightmare where they pushed for and won the first prize of getting rid of Muammar Gadaffi but ended up with a catastrophic failed state feeding and arming terrorists in the region and beyond.

_Jean-Jacques Cornish is the Africa correspondent at _ Eyewitness News . Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish

This piece first appeared on www.jjcornish.com