DR. LAM AKOL | When will the first elections in South Sudan be held?

DR. LAM AKOL | When will the first elections in South Sudan be held?

By Dr Lam Akol

Chairman of National Democratic Movement (NDM) and Secretary-General of South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin [Photo via Wikipedia]

OPINION – This author published on 22 December 2021 an article entitled “Towards Free and Fair Elections” in which he stated that in the remaining one year to the time for conducting elections as stipulated in the Revitalized Peace Agreement, it was still possible to conduct such elections. However, that was based on assuming good faith among the Parties to implement the activities that are pre-requisites for conducting free and fair elections. The article dealt in detail with these pre-requisites and the time frame needed for each. It was stressed that implementation of these activities was a package and cherry-picking among them would defeat their very purpose which is that together the implementation of these activities would create the conducive atmosphere and level field necessary for the conduct of free and fair elections. It was the expectation that the Parties will double up on the implementation process in order to prepare the ground for a credible election.

This article will evaluate the progress made in the almost two months since the article was published and see if it will still be possible to go ahead with the elections on 22 December 2022 as the Revitalized Peace Agreement demands.

Reviewing the activities as listed in the last article the following is observed.

The formation of the ad hoc Judicial Reform Committee and the demilitarization of the civilian centres, both scheduled to take place before the end of January 2022, were not implemented.

The adoption of the Constitutional Bill that incorporates the R-ARCSS into the Constitution of South Sudan 2011 before the end of February 2022 looks extremely unlikely given the fact that the Parliament is busy debating the annual budget.

The Political Parties Bill and the National Elections Bill that should have been promulgated before the end of February are yet to be tabled before Parliament.

The delay in the implementation of these activities causes delay in the implementation of other related activities. For instance, the delay in demilitarizing civilian areas would discourage the voluntary return of the refugees and IDPs to their ancestral homes. Delay in adopting Political Parties Act would push back the formation of the Political Parties Council and consequently the registration of the political parties. And so on.

In the first week of February, the Interim Chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) released their last quarterly report for the year on the status of implementation of the R-ARCSS. It covered the period from 1st of October to 31st of December 2021.  On elections the report made the observation that:

“There has been a lot of discussion surrounding elections at the end of the Transitional Period. It is therefore important to stress key areas within the Agreement that must be attended to in order to foster trust and confidence in the resulting elections results, this include (i) the unification and redeployment of the forces of the armed Parties to the Agreement, and the DDR; (ii) the completion of the Permanent Constitution-making process to guide the conduct of elections; (iii) review of the National Elections Act 2012 and Political Parties Act 2012, and reconstituting of the National Elections Commission and the Political Parties Council; (iv) facilitation of the voluntary return of South Sudan’s IDPs and refugees; and (v) constituency delimitation, registration of voters and population census should ideally be undertaken. (pp. 15-16).

On the basis of these observations, the report made the following recommendations:

To the TNLA:

Expedite enactment of the legislation that is still outstanding in support of the implementation of the R-ARCSS, including the Permanent Constitution-making bill and the security related bills.

To RTGoNU:

Implement the agreed upon Constitution-making process roadmap;

Establish the Ad-Hoc Judicial Reform Committee to undertake the study and recommend judicial reforms to be implemented after submission of its report;

Make financial resources available for the completion of the Transitional Security Arrangements, including graduation and redeployment of Phase I of the unified forces, for the DDR Commission to implement its plans and for commencement of Phase 2 of the unification process;

Revisit the agreed timelines of the Agreement with a view to the prioritization of tasks that must be completed before the holding of elections (p. 16).

The report concludes:

“This report shows that there was very limited progress made in the implementation of the R-ARCSS during the period under review. Of particular concern is the failure of the RTGoNU to provide the necessary resources to complete the critical process of the graduation and redeployment of Phase 1 of the NUF. Also of concern is the delay, up to now, of the TNLA to enact the pending legislation, which is critical in support of the implementation of the R-ARCSS. With the exception of the PFM reforms within the context of Chapter IV of the R-ARCSS, there was hardly any progress within the other chapters, which can only increase the frustrations of the wider population that the Agreement is not having the desired impact on their lives. This growing frustration is only compounded by the ongoing floods and other humanitarian concerns as well as continuing inter-communal violence; all negatively impacting the people of South Sudan”. (p. 17).

The RJMEC has spoken. It is the body entrusted by the R-ARCSS to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the peace agreement in letter and spirit. Despite the diplomatic language used, it is clear from RJMEC’s report that no progress has been made in the period under review. In other words, the lack of political will to implement the Agreement continues to reign supreme. Therefore, thinking should shift to considering what alternative course of action should be adopted to save the already tottering Agreement from total collapse.  It is one’s considered opinion that we should hold the elections on time; that is, on 22 December 2022 as stipulated in the Revitalized Agreement. There is still enough time to enact the laws and reform the judiciary. Save for the lack of political will it would also have been possible to achieve unification and redeployment of the armed forces of the Parties to the Agreement in good time.  Therefore, the critical activities that need more time than what is available until elections day are: the constitution-making process, the return of the refugees and the IDPs to their ancestral homes, and the conduct of the population census. In view of the vital and pivotal role of provision of security to the elections process in fostering trust and confidence in the elections results, this task must be given to UNMISS. It is already in South Sudan with a mandate under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter to, among other duties, protect civilians and assist in the implementation of the R-ARCSS. We appeal to members of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution to that effect. Once security is provided, the refugees and IDPs will be encouraged to voluntarily return to their homes to resettle and take part in this important civic duty of voting in their leaders. On the remaining issues of Constitution-making process and conduct of the population census, the Parties to the Agreement should decide as soon as possible on what to do. In case it is decided not to conduct the population census before the elections, we need to caution ourselves that the 2008 Population and Housing Census in Sudan was contested by the SPLM, GOSS and other South Sudanese. Therefore, it cannot be the basis of the data to be used for constituency demarcation. The only census that enjoyed support in Southern Sudan was the 1983 Census which was conducted and made public before the war broke out in May that year. Although that is about 40 years old, it is far better than a more recent contested one. Those results can be extrapolated to this year 2022.

Conclusion

In the intervening period since the last article was published, voices calling for holding the elections on time have become louder but never cared an iota to get the pre-requisites implemented first. However, without exception, these voices came from one of the signatories, the SPLM-IG. Little wonder as it is the Party accused of obstructing the implementation of the agreement in order to sustain the status quo. The coterie around the President believes that the chance of him winning an election lies in holding elections under conditions where the loyalty of the armed forces are not to the country but to an individual; where the other parties are not allowed to move freely and mobilize support; where the judiciary is under the thumb of the President; where the media are gagged or intimidated for independent reporting; where the refugees and IDPs, judged to be anti-IG, are to continue in their displacement during elections; and where the civil service is not impartial so as to have a one-sided electoral commission and committees. All these conditions dictate against the unification of the forces of the Parties to the Agreement and the reform agenda spelt out in it.  Therefore, the feverish campaign started by SPLM-IG to hold elections in 2023 is suspect for at least two reasons: for one, insisting on an unspecified date in the year 2023 as the date for conducting elections is already a unilateral extension of the date of elections as per the R-ARCSS, which is 22 December 2022. This is a gross violation of the Agreement. Second, it is fairly obvious that the elections they talk about is not what all of us have in mind. Theirs is an exercise in sham elections, a charade, so as to hold to power by all means even if that act could lead to renewed conflict. Under such conditions it will be the height of self-delusion to even suggest that elections would be possible and acceptable.

What needs to be done is not to reject holding elections on time or accept to hold them under the oppressive and suffocating status quo, but to accelerate the pace of implementation where possible in the remaining time.  Tasks that cannot be completed before the elections date because of time constraint will require decisions from the Parties to the Agreement so that the elections are held on time at the end of the 34th month of the Transitional Period which is 22 December 2022. The provision of security for the elections process for both the population and candidates, and against rigging should be entrusted to UNMISS.

Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin is the Chairman of National Democratic Movement (NDM) and Secretary-General of South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA). Follow him on Twitter HERE.


The views expressed in the ‘OPINIONS & ANALYSIS’ section of Sudans Post are solely the opinions of the writers. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author not this website. If you want to submit an opinion piece or an analysis please email us here.



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