August 23, 2013 (JUBA)- Parliament speaker James Wani Igga was on Friday appointed South Sudan’s new vice-president after apparently deciding to drop his presidential ambitions, a high-ranking member of the political bureau said.
- James Wani, new South Sudanese vice-president (Photo Moses Lomayat)
"Comrade James Wani is a wise man. He shows [the] symbolic and unifying characters of a leader. He puts the national interest above everything else, and has now decided voluntarily to drop off the race for the SPLM chairmanship. He is not showing interest in in these divisive regional and tribal politics”, the source said.
The revelation comes after president Salva Kiir Mayardit last week held talks with members of the Greater Equatoria parliamentary group in the national Legislative assembly.
The group, which was led Thomas Wani, head of the SPLM caucus in the house of representatives, provided assurances of their support for Kiir and his entire leadership.
In a statement broadcast by the state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV) on 21 August, Wani, speaking on behalf of lawmakers, congratulated the president for responding to public demands for a leaner government and his leadership skills in maintaining peace in the country.
The new nation has been gripped by political uncertainty after a succession battle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) intensified in recent weeks.
Igga, himself a third deputy chairperson of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), replaced Riek Machar after he was removed from his position last month during a major cabinet reshuffle.
His appointment comes exactly 30 days after Kiir sacked his long-time former deputy Riek Machar Teny and dismissed his entire cabinet following an apparent internal power struggle within the SPLM.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Friday, Wani described speculation that Igga had shown interest in running against Kiir as cheap political propaganda. He argued there was no way the former speaker would declare his ambition without the knowledge of the party’s senior leadership.
Wani maintained Igga was committed to delivering much-needed development in the country rather than competing over the presidency of the party.
“Comrade James Wani serves with pride and humility. He is not in the race with anybody. He is in the race with South Sudanese people to develop this country and not to compete with anybody over leadership. I repeat that he is not in any race with an individual or group of individuals. We have a huge task and that is to catch up on the development that we lost during the years of civil war [with Sudan]”, he said.
Asked whether former vice-president, Riek Machar and SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum Okiech were a threat to Kiir’s bid for another term, Wani said it was too early to talk about threats because it was not a campaign period for the presidential elections.
"The priority of our people is to develop this country and uplift the living standards of our people in a very committed manner. There is no-one in the SPLM that has been vilified or demonised for harbouring presidential ambitions", Wani said.
The SPLM has a history of feuds and splits dating back to its guerrilla war against successive Khartoum-based regimes prior to gaining independence from neighbouring Sudan in July 2011.
It remains unclear who will succeed Igga in the parliament, although some legislators have speculated that Magok Rundial may take the seat as next speaker. Little political background is known about Rundial who hails from Unity state.
The former vice-president is also rumoured to be in the running for the job.
Deputy speaker of the national legislative Daniel Awet Akot commended Igga’s appointment.
"This is a commendable decision. It is a wise choice by the president. I congratulate comrade Salva Kiir Mayardit for appointing comrade James Wani Igga”, Akot said on Friday.
He revealed that all members of the house on the SPLM ticket would meet with the president on Saturday morning to discuss the latest development.
South Sudanese from various communities on Friday welcomed the appointment of the speaker of the national parliament, James Wani Igga, as the country’s new vice-president.
Some see Igga’s appointment as a way for Kiir to balance regional representation and allocation of key powerful positions while others also view it as an attempt to reach out for support from the Greater Equatoria region.
Peter Bashir Gbandi, a member of parliament from Western Equatoria state representing Maridi county, also congratulated Kiir on his choice, describing it as "the wise decision".
"I know comrade James will work very hard with the president as a team to make sure the SPLM gets stronger; restore hope and trust in the leadership, so that the focus is given to delivering services to our people", he said.
Igga’s appointment has also attracted a positive public reaction, with many saying he was the rightful candidate for the position.
William Deng, a native of Warrap state, said he was happy that a new vice-president had been appointed.
"I am glad for [the] appointment of James Wani Igga. He actually deserves to have been the vice-president from the start. This position has been his post. It was him who gave it away and it is good that it has now returned to him”, said Deng on Friday
Deng also praised Igga for his role during the north-south civil war in mobilising the people of the Equatoria region to join the liberation struggle from successive Khartoum-based regimes.
"He also did not accept to break away and return to Khartoum when the movement was being deserted in [the] 1990s. He remained as committed and a loyal member of the movement until [the] signing of the [Comprehensive] Peace Agreement (CPA)", he said.
Deng also praised Igga for standing down from his position when Machar rejoined the movement in 2002 after splitting in 1991.
Charles Majak, a member of parliament from Warrap state, also endorsed Igga’s appointment, describing the former speaker as a "unitary leader, friendly and a peace loving person".
"He puts the national interest above anything else. He is not selfish and I don’t think he will ever be selfish", Majak added.
The legislator downplayed fears that Igga, who needs a two-thirds majority to secure his nomination, may face difficulties getting the required percent from the house.
"He really deserves it and I don’t think there are members who would refuse to vote for comrade Wani to become the vice-president … Most of the members went to the president proposing his name, so I don’t think they will reject him", Majak said.