October 17, 2013 (JUBA) - Members of parliament from South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state have unanimously approved new parliamentary leadership changes, including the appointment of a new deputy speaker.
The move comes a week after former deputy speaker Athiang Manok Athiang was removed from his position over remarks widely viewed widely as undermining the independence and integrity of the national legislative assembly.
Multiple legislators who spoke to Sudan Tribune on Wednesday said the changes will only affect a parliamentary committee responsible for human rights and legal affairs.
Member for parliament Angok Achuol said Nyibol Achor had been appointed as the new as the deputy speaker, while Isaac Makau was named as the committee’s new chairperson, after his predecessor decided to run for the position of deputy speaker.
“There is now a new deputy speaker and a new chairperson for [the] human rights and legal affairs committee. The members of Aweil South county, according to the conduct of business of our transitional constitution, were allowed by the house to go and sit down to make [a] selection of who they want to fulfil the position of deputy speaker”, Achuol told Sudan Tribune from the state capital, Aweil town.
The legislator further explained that by law a person cannot contest a position while holding another.
The new human rights and legal affairs chairperson also confirmed his appointment in a separate interview after the decision.
“The house today on 16 October allowed us to go and sit down as members of parliament from Aweil South county to select the new deputy speaker because the position was given to us. So it was up to us to bring the person. So five of us who are members of the assembly from the area went and sat down and made the selection”, he said.
Prior to the ballot, some members of parliament had expressed uncertainty over whether they would be able to vote without interference.
The seat of deputy speaker was declared vacant on 8 October, after Athiang was removed by simple majority vote.
According to Makau, the position was contested by Garang Majak Bol and Nyibol Achol.
The latter was appointed after securing the support of three members in comparison to the former, who was supported by just one member.
The same applied during the vote for a new committee chairperson, with two members approving Makau’s nomination against his rival, Kuot Kuac, who managed to obtain only his own vote and the vote of another member.
“It was a civilised exercise as it ended peacefully. There was no problem. The person who was standing for the position of the deputy speaker said he was going to make a minority report, which we all accepted, because it is his right but the fact remains the same. The report will not change the outcome because the new deputy speaker was democratically elected by the simple majority”, the lawmaker explained.
The removal of the former deputy speaker followed comments he made in relation to a decision by the house in August when at least 150 members voted to reject the nomination of Telar Riing Deng.
Now a presidential advisor for legal affairs, Deng was president Salva Kiir’s nominee for the national minister of justice post following a major cabinet shakeup on 23 July.
Deng’s rejection by the house drew mixed reactions, with some members saying the decision undermined the president, while others saw it as an assertion of the parliament’s constitutional roles and oversight functions.
It was during this period that Athiang called on the president to dissolve the house, describing members who participated in the vote to reject Deng as “crooks and betrayers”.
His comments sparked outrage, forcing the house to convene a special session in which members voted to form a parliamentary select committee drawing membership from all 10 states.
The move was seen as an attempt by the state government to distance itself from getting involved in the conflict with the national parliament, with members subsequently voting to remove Athiang from his post on 7 October.
He has since apologised, claiming he had been overwhelmed by emotions at the time and was not intending to insult the house.
A campaign by members to fill Athiang’s position following his removal was terminated on 15 October, after the house reached a consensus that the position should be filled by a member of parliament from the same county as the predecessor.