May 12, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudanese president Salva Kiir has announced that the next general elections scheduled to be held next year will be pushed back until 2017 due to continued instability and violence in the country.
- South Sudanese president Salva Kiir speaking in a press conference at Khartoum airport April 5, 2014 (Photo Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla)
The 2015 elections were to be the first since the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
The president made the announcement on Sunday following his return from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where he signed a framework agreement with former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar, aimed at ending the nearly five-month-old conflict.
Kiir said the decision would allow time for national reconciliation and pave the way for peaceful and transparent elections in the country.
“Elections will not be held in 2015 because reconciliation between the people will have to take time,” Kiir told supporters at a rally organised to welcome him at Juba airport.
The president said while he preferred to hold elections in 2015, he had accepted the advice of Western leaders that the country needed more time to prepare.
COMMITMENT TO PEACE
Kiir, meanwhile, reaffirmed his government’s commitment to implementing a peaceful settlement to the crisis, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 1.3 million.
He said the proposed formation of a transitional government, which will include all political parties and civil society groups, would be carried out after the signing of a final peace agreement.
The transitional government will be tasked implementing critical reforms negotiated as part of the peace process, overseeing a permanent constitutional process and preparing the country for new elections.
“These tasks require time and participation of all our people, so it will not be possible to hold elections in 2015. The processes will need not less than two years, so we decided that the next general elections [will] be held in 2017 so that there is [enough] time for preparations,” Kiir said in a public broadcast.
International observers have previously expressed concerns about South Sudan’s ability to meet the deadline for the poll.
A national census required to define, demarcate and distribute geographical constituencies has also yet to be conducted.
The last census was conducted in 2008 when the region was still part of the united Sudan from which it seceded in 2011 following a 2005 peace accord which ended a brutal civil war spanning more than two decades and swept the then rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to power.
The results of the 2008 census remain in dispute, although it continues to be used as the basis for the distribution of wealth and allocation of political seats in both the executive and parliament.
The current composition of the national parliament includes those who were elected to the national parliament in Khartoum in 2010 prior to the country’s split in 2011.
Simmering political tensions within the SPLM since last year have been blamed for triggering South Sudan’s latest crisis, in what is the worst violence in the country’s post-secession era.
Machar has accused the president of dishonouring their gentlemen’s agreement as running mates during the 2010 elections in which he campaigned for the president to get elected.
Kiir subsequently removed his long-standing deputy after Machar signaled his intention to contest the party’s chairmanship, which would have seen him become the likely presidential candidate in the 2015 elections.
Simon Majok, a native of Unity state’s Parieng country, said he was not surprised by the announcement.
He suspects some politicians in the country of using the fighting as leverage to hold onto positions of power.
“A part from this conflict, which some of us think was instigated and which could be used as a reason to extend the general elections, I think the announcement does not surprise at all, because it was one of the objectives of some of the politicians in the current government,” he told Sudan Tribune on Monday
“They (the current government) have wanted all along the elections to be postponed to either 2017 or cancelled them indefinitely. My other reading of the whole objective behind pushing the year is to keep away the potential political opponents, especially those who have presidential and gubernatorial ambitions,” he added.
But Alfred Deng, a native of Western Bahr el Ghazal currently based in Juba, said delaying the elections would allow time for a review of the constitution, which originally gave the president excessive powers, including the right to remove elected governors and dissolve the state parliament.
“These powers will now be modified in the next constitution and the powers of the president will be clearly defined and limited. It will also mean revision of the entire constitution,” said Deng.
Some political and legal experts have argued that not all social and political reforms need to be enshrined in the constitution.
However, Juba-based political commentator James Okuk said it is critical for the country’s future that the foundation for reforms be laid down in the constitution so as to create a legally enforceable obligation that must be respected, citing women’s rights and land tenure as examples.
Activists say there has been a tendency in African countries of developing a constitution which gives more powers to either the president or parliament, resulting in the roll-back of constitutional provisions and unlimited terms for elected heads of states.
In many cases, African leaders have also diluted the impartiality of the courts and independent organisations created in part to act as a government watchdog, as was the case in Kenya five years ago when former president Mwai Kibaki handpicked the members of what was meant to be an independent electoral commission.
“When the elections in December 2007 took place, the commission was quick to confirm that President Kibaki had been re-elected,” said Samson Duku, a law student at Uganda’s Makerere University. “Everyone else, the opposition parties and large parts of the international community, viewed the election as rigged. Can you expect members of the electoral commission who owe their appointment to the president to be independent-minded when it comes to his survival in office following the elections? I think this is an example our country should take a serious note,” he added.
Similar situations have also occurred in countries where one party dominates the presidency, parliament and judiciary, thus curtailing any system of checks and balances.
As is the case in many African countries, the power to introduce legislation or alter the constitution lies with the president or parliament, although some countries have borrowed from the South African example of holding the government to accountable to a constitutional court that can hear complaints and rule against government policies.
Changes to the constitution require a two-thirds majority in the national assembly and the support of a majority of provinces.
Provisions in Kenya’s 2010 constitution allows citizens to initiate reforms as long as they do not affect key issues such as the supremacy of the constitution, the bill of rights and the terms of the president or the territory of the country.
“This is what our people want to be reflected in the next constitution. It should be a people-centred constitution so that they would be able to hold accountable their representatives and those elected to represent them at any level of government,” said Deng.
Political scientists say that making a constitution too easy to change could potentially undermine the development of democratic institutions, saying an open and inclusive process for the creation of a constitution that can evolve over time is key.