Opinion | How do we make an election possible in South Sudan?
There have been a lot of debates and counter debates on the possibility of South Sudan conducting its first national general elections since its independence in 2011. The legitimacy of the government since 2015 continues to survive on endless power-sharing Peace Agreements, the political leaders continue to undermine and underrate the fundamental power of the people of South Sudan.
Unfortunately, IGAD became a toothless institution that embraces and supports the non-compliance of the Parties to genuinely implement the Peace Agreement. They did not put in place punitive measures to deal with the Peace Agreement violators and instead sanitized those who violated it.
In one of their Communique, they did mention that any violator of the Accord will face consequences for their action. Despite the fact that institutions created by the Peace Agreement and supported by IGAD through other international partners reported a number of continuous violations by the Parties. Nothing of any sort happened in terms of punitive measures instead of issuing statements like ‘’We appreciate the Parties for implementing the Agreement’’. Any normal South Sudanese in his or her rightful senses will assert that there’s absolutely no agreement being implemented by the Parties.
I would like to address our minds into key fundamental ingredients for any election to happen in any perceived to be a democratic nation; the principle of legality, the constitutionality of any election is very paramount and ought to be urgently addressed. The current Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (As amended) doesn’t in any way support or provide any legal framework for the conduct of the said election. The current Constitution is basically meant to deal with the 36-months Transitional Period and it was the incorporation of the Peace Agreement into the Constitution. There is supposed to be a whole process of writing a new Constitution for South Sudan that will breathe a new life to the Constitution and provide a legal framework for the conduct of the election. After its enactment, several amendments to other relevant laws relating to the election would’ve happened immediately such as the National Election Act, 2012 and the Political Parties Act, 2012. How do you organize an election without any constitutional or legal framework? Do we want to organize a kangaroo election? Any election in South Sudan must be conducted in accordance with the provision of the Constitution and other relevant laws, running short of that means it was an illegal, unconstitutional, and illegitimate election. In fact, it will be a selection, not an election.
The second issue, I would like us to address our minds to; is the security of the voters and the citizens at large. There’s nowhere in the world where voters will decide to go and vote in a very hostile unpredicted environment. That’s why it is always referred to as ‘’ a peaceful election’’, there must be security guaranteed for all the voters and during the whole electoral period. However, the government has frustrated the implementation of the security arrangements under chapter two of the Peace Agreement. I understand some colleagues have provided a remedy of suggesting that UNMISS should provide security to the voters just like what happened in the Central Africa Republic. The unjustified narrative that government doesn’t have money to implement the Peace Agreement and specifically the transitional security arrangements is a misplaced excuse because they continue receiving funds from the oil and non-oil revenues, instead, these funds end up in individual bank accounts or pockets. Those leading the National Transitional Committee became rich and richer with the resources meant for the implementation of the security arrangements. Unless we fundamentally address the issue of voters’ security and safety of the whole electoral process. It will be just a selection but not an election.
There is a need for government to massively provide resources to the National Election Commission to perform its Constitutional duties, currently, the Commission lacks funds to even pay its rents, salaries and run the office in Juba. The State offices were closed down because they lack funds to run them, for the commission to conduct any sort of election in the Country. They need a lot of time and resources to put their house in order, it is important to note that government continues to frustrate the commission and deliberately refused to fund it.
Unfortunately, the same people who undermined and underfunded the Commission are the very people yapping and calling for elections in 2023. It will be insane to think that the Commission in its current position is capable of conducting any sort of election unless they want to preside over a selection process, not an election.
The shrinking civil and political space must be unconditionally opened by the government, also government must commit to respecting citizens' political and civil rights and freedoms. There’s no way we can conduct an election in such a hostile environment where challenging President Kiir's leadership and the ruling party SPLM is treated as treason. The media independence and freedoms must be guaranteed, protected, and respected by the State. There’s too much intimidation from the government security apparatus. It has to stop!
Election disputes resolution mechanisms seem to be lacking and unprepared, the judiciary arm of government charged with such responsibility is not independent and not fully reconstituted. There’s an urgent need to empower, fund, and ensure that the judiciary is independent, credible, and impartial to handle disputes resulting from the election outcomes.
The Agreement demands the census be conducted first before an election is conducted, however, it is possible to conduct elections without a national census but you ought to determine the population distribution. It happened in some jurisdictions before and it is indeed possible but how will you determine the population distribution in different geographical constituencies and the voting pattern since the last time we had a population census was in 2008. How feasible and visible is it to use such data after a devastating war in the Country. It is important to first determine the population distribution to demarcate different geographical constituencies.
Lastly, it is fundamentally important to deal with the refugee and IDP's question, otherwise, we risk having other constituencies not represented at all levels of government. Let the government make the conditions favorable for them to return home with huge government investment.
Wani Michael is a youth representative on the National Constitution Amendment Committee (NCAC). He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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