South Sudan Legislators Link Upcoming Elections to Critical Reforms

South Sudan legislators in the Reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly (RTNLA) have linked the upcoming elections to achieving critical reforms stipulated in the 2018 revitalized peace agreement, arguing full implementation of the accord was paramount.

The lawmakers were on Monday deliberating the speech of President Salva Kiir which he delivered on the inauguration of the Parliament on August 3.  Aldo Ajou Deng, a prominent South Sudan politician and a legislator in the Council of States, said the election would be held if the issue of security and reforms in institutions are addressed as a matter of priority and to pave way for a free and fair outcome of the process.

“Let us be honest to ourselves and speak to the issues. Elections require a conducive environment. They require certain arrangements to be put in place.  They require us to put the security together, to put the institutions including the judiciary in its place. Let us declare freedom and liberty of democracy and rule of law before we talk about the election,” explained Deng

The legislator explained that “these gaps are fundamental for a country to run, but when these are absent, you cannot say you run institutions and you make people accountable for the development”.  He said it was very important that the leaders of the country embark on reconciliation among themselves and address the challenges facing the people across the country before holding an election.

“Our leaders should know that to put these things together: security first, freedom second and then the constitution, before we go for election.”

Deng blamed the political leaders for the lack of cooperation to implement the agreement to the letter and spirit as stipulated in the agreement.

“The problem is that we have leaders who exhibit a lack of cooperation to implement the agreement to the letter and spirit in which it was signed. They have the mandate. Unfortunately, they are not, and our concern now is that these leaders are not holding the agreement and they are not helping one another. They are still feeling differently and sometimes when you see them sitting, it is when on the issue of positions come up what position and for who? This is where they become active”.

Nathaniel Oyet, first deputy speaker representing the faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) under the leadership of the first vice president Riek Machar, agreed with Deng and pointed out that the implementation of the security arrangement and other processes such as the conduct of census and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes of origin and to participate in the elections require a conducive environment

“From 2018 to 2021, we have not even graduated a single soldier and now we are talking about the election, and you know these parties some of them have arms, they have forces, if we go for elections as commander in chief and as generals, I wonder what kind of elections we will be holding,” posed Oyet.

“So, in that case, security arrangement is pre-requisite to holding elections, repatriation of citizens is very critical because we have displaced our population,” said Oyet.

The vocal legislator pointed out that most places in the country have been abandoned owing to recuring internal inter-ethnic conflicts in the countryside.

‘‘If you go to Malakal, you will never see people. Most of them are in the PoCs (Protection of Civilian Camps), even in Juba next to Jebel Kujur here, our population is in PoC. Do we want them to vote from IDP camps?’  ‘‘That one we cannot accept, our people must be returned to their areas and those across the border must be brought back in a dignified manner”.  He wonders elections would be conducted without graduating the unified forces.

“Election yes, nobody is scared of an election, all of us must go and seek a mandate from the people who have the sovereignty of this country, but election should be held under a condition which must not drop this country to another violence,” emphasized Oyet.

Oyet said the reforms in political space in the country must be considered by the leaders and the permanent constitution to review the national electoral act

“We have a lack of political space. You hear in Wau, Central Equatoria, and other parts around this country the security operatives are detaining members of other political parties.  They don’t allow them to have their meetings.  Civil liberties are hampered. You hear people are living in embassies and these are bad signs we don’t want to see in this country. If we want credible elections, then we must desist from this kind of practice.”

Observers say they are unsure whether credible elections will ever be conducted in South Sudan despite President Kiir’s assurance of willingness to complete the implementation of the agreement in preparation for the 2023 elections.  While appearing confident of the conduct of the vote, other parties remain sceptical and argued against rushing elections without meeting prerequisites stipulated in the peace accord and in accordance with the international standards and best practices.

Nicholas Haysom, head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan who serves as the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General last month warned that the slow implementation of the security arrangements could obstruct election after the end of the transitional period.

“We witnessed an increase in violence particularly communal violence and humanitarian challenges. The slow security arrangements can be an obstacle for the coming election,” said Haysom.

Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of CEPO, agreed with him Haysom. Yakani called on Kiir to take responsibility for transitioning the country from violence to peace.

“The delay in implementing the transitional security arrangements and slow establishment of the political proposed structures by the various provisions of the R-ARCSS is posing worry for successful transitioning of the country from violence to peace”.

SPLM-IO, the main peace partner also warned against conducting the elections if not all the crucial chapters are implemented.

“It is not just about stating that the election will be held in 2023. We are not against it, but to reach election, we need to implement the agreement,” said Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, SPLM-IO Spokesperson who doubles up as the National Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation.

Article 1.20 subsection 1.20.5 of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan requires the conduct of elections 60 days before the end of the transitional period.   It states that the national election commission (NEC) shall organize elections under the provisions of the permanent constitution adopted according to the agreement and shall ensure that the outcome is broadly reflective of the will of the electorate. Yet parties have not completed reviewing laws required to pave way for preparing the ground for the permanent constitution-making process.

News Agencies