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‘City Review’ exposes President Kiir over looming South Sudan elections

South Sudan President Salva Kiir is on record declaring the country will hold its long-delayed national elections in December 2024, with him as the candidate for the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party.

Against all odds – and they’re legion – the 72-year-old former guerilla commander seems determined to liberate himself from sharing power with representatives of rival factions under the current transition government.

The EastAfrican of September 23, 2023, quoted President Kiir as expressing his frustrations that he was tired of the transition government because there were too many (five) vice-presidents, hence making governance cumbersome. “If my deputies are the ones who go and encourage people who talk about no elections, I will tell them that there is no extension of the agreement or roadmap,” he said during an economic conference in Juba.

However, key stakeholders have raised doubts over the President’s resolve, saying there were many challenges that ought to be addressed before fixing the polls date. For example, his first Vice-President Riek Machar argues it would be impossible to hold elections in the expansive country of 11 million people, the youngest in Africa, until the security challenges are sorted out.

In August 2022, the transition period was extended by 24 months when the signatories to the 2018 peace agreement (the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan) noticed that the main requirements for elections had not been implemented. Dr Machar maintains that key prerequisites must be met before elections are held, including screening, training and deployment of a unified force, return of the internally displaced persons and repairing home of refugees from neighbouring countries. Others on his side of argument add to this menu the conduct of a national census and the promulgation of a new constitution.

Those in the inner circle of President Kiir dismiss opposing voices as detractors and infernal nay-sayers hell bent on disrupting the course of the nation’s political future for fear of losing at the ballot box. There’s an upswell to the President’s leadership, including the leader of the National Salvation Front, Gen Thomas Crillo, the exiled former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement secretary general Pagan Amum, and the former chief of general staff Paul Malong Awan. Recently, National Security Minister Oyai Deng Ajak threatened to mobilise troops, march to Juba and jettison President Kiir for allegedly hijacking SPLM leadership structures for personal gain.

In the midst of all these, President Kiir – in a manner signalling his and SPLM’s resolve to stay in power – made a whirlwind tour of the Bahr el Ghazal region in March 2023. The City Review of February 1, 2024 reminded readers that the President made “triumphant entries in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Kuacjok in his home state of Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal State.” Writer Yiep Joseph added that “President Kiir was treated to a spectacle of a sea of humanity decked in the iconic red colour synonymous with the SPLM party, with banners showing political support infusing an ambience of top-grade political rallying.”

Later, City Review interviews with SPLM’s top officials returned a collective “denial that the game [of early campaigns] had not started yet.” However, the publication correctly noted that “nearly one year down the lane, the ruling party has penetrated the states with a chain of political activities, sending the message to would-be rivals that they are in for a real political duel.” Why?

Yiep Joseph, again, to the rescue: “With the reconstitution of the National Election Commission all but done, save for the lack of funds holding down its activities, the political parties are locked in a state of uncertainty, which holds some of them back from hitting the road for campaigns.”

The publication reported that while the Opposition waits for the NEC to give the go-ahead for campaigns, the SPLM beefed up its grassroots mobilisation strategy, “sending a team of skilled cadres to all the states and administrative areas to drive and communicate the party’s message.”

Here was the clincher: “The City Review has established that there exists a legal gap that could give bigger parties with resources an edge to hit the road earlier with campaigns, as the law seems vague on defining the timeline of such activities.”

For example? “The National Elections Act, 2012 (Amendment) Act, 2023, does not clearly specify when the commission is supposed to declare the period for campaigns and spell out guidelines, although it has powers to guide the process.”

“Going by the Act, the mobilisation campaigns by the SPLM, which may sound like campaigns to some people, may not be at loggerheads with the law. In part 11 of the amended Act, which covers the conduct of elections, the commission is expected to give guidelines for the election but fails to specify what [is] to be done in case of delays.”

Lesson learnt? That in a matter as tricky as the likely peekaboo President Salva Kiir and his ruling SPLM are playing in “stealing the race” in the impending South Sudan’s national elections, the media must be woke. In directing its readers to a glaring legal lacuna, the City Review wins the bouquet for being one of the very few “thinking media” within the eight East African Community member states.

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