Guest Column

The South Sudan crisis

2017-06-25 06:04
Salva Kiir Mayardit

Salva Kiir Mayardit

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We were two of the many who played small roles in South Sudan’s journey to independence as observers of the seminal electoral events in the world’s newest country.

It is with dismay, therefore, that we state that conditions for credible elections do not exist there.

An inclusive political process needs to be sought now – before a new constitutional and political crisis occurs.

In April 2010, national elections, though flawed in significant aspects, introduced the first administration South Sudanese democratically elected in decades.

During the campaign, the ruling party abused its position of incumbency and frustrated competition in some areas.

Still, for most South Sudanese, it was a first, thrilling experience of participatory democracy.

In January 2011, an overwhelming number of South Sudanese voted to create an independent country.

This was a remarkable, free expression of popular sentiment judged credible by all who observed.

It is easy to forget that, at the time, there were doubts as to whether the elections and referendum could be held.

It was only through the determined efforts of the South Sudanese and international partners that both events were conducted.

Across party, regional and ethnic lines, the South Sudanese demonstrated sufficient unity to ensure participatory processes were pursued and fulfilled.

We left our task in no doubt that the next election, then due in 2015, would face significant challenges.

Relative to the referendum, it would probably be more problematic.

The need for a new political process

Having watched elections throughout the world, we know that the second election is often more difficult than the first – consolidating and entrenching democratic values and open competition is easier said than done.

The outbreak of civil war in late 2013 made scheduled elections impossible.

The peace agreement signed in 2015 restructured the timetable for elections, which are now due in August next year.

Unfortunately, the peace agreement has largely collapsed.

To proceed with elections in the present environment would only ensure further turmoil, violence and disruption.

Any outcome would most likely be illegitimate. At least a year is needed to adequately prepare administratively for a successful election.

Much has to be done – constituency delimitation, adoption of a legal framework, new voter registration and procurement of electoral material.

Even this compressed time frame requires much political will and financial commitment.

It is a sad absurdity to speak of elections when humanitarian forecasts project that half of the population will face displacement or starvation by the end of this year.

An extension of the term of the present government is being considered.

The recently launched national dialogue may well make this recommendation, which would delay elections.

Any decision to delay polls should be transparent and inclusive of a wide spectrum of South Sudanese actors, both civilian and armed.

While it is not our place to tell the South Sudanese how they should govern themselves, we do believe that elections at the right time remain necessary.

All South Sudanese have the right to decide how they are governed.

We look forward to the day that the South Sudanese freely go to the polls for the third time.

But, long before then, a new, credible, political process is needed so that South Sudan can end its crisis and get the leadership necessary to embark on a genuine political transition towards peace, prosperity, reconciliation and justice.

Sanne van den Bergh was the director of Carter Centre’s international election observation mission to the South Sudan referendum in 2013.

Ravindran Daniel was a senior staff member with the UN Mission in Sudan – 2005 to 2008; 2010 to 2011

Read more on:    south sudan
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