KHARTOUM, Jan. 28 (Reuters) - Sudan's ruling National Congress Party said on Wednesday it would support former foe Salva Kiir for president of the semi-autonomous south in April elections in an attempt to revive a faltering partnership.
In a surprise move, the NCP said it would not field a candidate against Kiir, head of the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) with which it signed a peace deal in 2005 ending 22 years of north-south civil war leading to the formation of a coalition government.
Relations are tense in the coalition over delays in implementing the deal. The NCP hopes the SPLM will reciprocate and withdraw its contender against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in the separate vote for president of all of Sudan.
"We are supporting Salva Kiir," NCP spokesman Fathi Shayla told reporters on Wednesday.
NCP presidential adviser Ali Tamim Fartak told Reuters the decision not to field a candidate for president of the south, which will vote on January 9, 2011 on independence, was to "maintain a good partnership" with the SPLM.
"And we hope the SPLM will do the same by withdrawing their candidate for the president of the republic," Fartak said.
The SPLM has nominated northern Muslim Yasir Arman to stand Bashir in the first democratic elections in 24 years.
Political analysts say an electoral alliance between the NCP and the SPLM would strengthen Bashir's party in the north and ensure the southern referendum would go ahead as planned, benefiting both parties.
The SPLM ridiculed the overture, saying it showed Bashir was worried by the challenge for the presidency.
"They may be worried but that is normal ... they have mismanaged the country for the last 21 years," SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum told Reuters.
The only other major candidate opposing Kiir in the south is Lam Akol, a former minister who split from the SPLM last year.
"Lam Akol is the NCP candidate ... the NCP was collecting signatures for Lam Akol in south Sudan," Amum added.
Amum said these talks had stalled because the NCP wanted to delay the demarcation of the north-south border, along which much of Sudan's oil wealth lies, until after the election.