Cloud of ambiguity swings around 2024 election conduct

By Ephraim Modi Duku Sokiri

South Sudan’s possibility of conducting general elections by December 2024 is in dilemma with some pending key tasks in the peace roadmap still to be implemented as the clock ticks down.

Activists and analysts weigh that the prospects and atmosphere of conducting free and fair elections are still unlikely.

“The possibility of conducting the election is very [questionable],” the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC) Prof. Abednego Akok Kacuol (in picture above) expressed to No.1 Citizen Daily Newspaper in an exclusive interview.

South Sudan is expected to transition into democracy by conducting elections in December 2024, phasing out the current interim government and at the end of the extended peace roadmap, in February 2025.

Prof. Abednego Akok Kacuol said the possibility of conducting democratic elections in the country next year is minimal, citing the implementation of the roadmap which is lagging behind.

 “For South Sudan to follow the guidelines, we have the legal framework. The national electoral commission act needs to be amended and it becomes a law to implement the legal program.” he said.

Prof. Akok contemplates the enactment of the electoral law for the commission to make a step on the prospect of conducting election to transition to democratic governance.

“You know if we didn’t have option to decide, we don’t move, but later we will have comparison to those obstacles. Our major obstacle there is the law to be passed soon. it will be time for us to sit and conduct voters’ registration and then we later see on chances that it may be conducted but not now,” Prof. Akok said.

“The whole commission is at the stage of taking off and then when we have taken off, we have to organize the government; the parliament is to sit and review the election act,” he added.

A civil society activist, Mrs. Lona Merikaje equally casts doubts on the conduct of free and fair democratic elections.

 Mrs. Merikaje advocates for a speedy implementation of the roadmap, expedite the constitution making progress to pave way for credible elections.

“Let’s not blindfold each other that yes, we want elections and we are going to have elections and some few individuals and few parties think they will run away with it, they will not even get where they want to get within the elections because the country is logistically challenged,” said Mrs. Lona.

She also stressed for the reconstitution of the political party’s council to give political liberty for both parties.

“The government should not lie to the public that the current space is conducive for conducting elections, the regulatory mechanism that elections require voter education and campaign through political rallies,” she said.

Mrs. Lona wonders if the government should devote to have elections in the country prior to the current roadmap implementation.

“It is evidenced that there is major delay and that put us into the current situation because now the question is are we going to have another roadmap to the implementation of the roadmap before we have elections,” Mrs. Lona questioned.  

She emphasized that the country has to set a direction of no return to another political crisis in basis of the capacity of the National Electoral Commission.

“Let’s start making preparations towards the conduct of the elections and that include reconstitution of the national election policy and detecting in which the commission is, it cannot run any election,” she said.

Meanwhile, Political analyst, James Boboya has emphasized on some reforms that needed to happen before the electoral processes, basically on the ability of the government to quickly respond in line with the peace agreement.

“The constitution process is supposed to move forward, so without the permanent constitution, and the system of governance, the current constitution is basically promoting the integrated part of the agreement which defines that South Sudan will be governed by the president and his five vice presidents, parliament and the council of states,” he said.

“This timeline is very short because the peace agreement was meant to survive for three years so at least these issues are to be addressed in the four years of the peace agreement. We need to have at least two years and half or three years to do those things, when we talk about the three, then we have to know that there’s robust political will, that’s money and political will and timelines are defined.”

“When they begin participating in the electoral process, we are talking about sixteen months that are gone and maybe five months for elections to take place, and that’s why I said it is not suppose for elections to take place in this period of the roadmap but election is possible within one year of the expiry of the roadmap.”

In February this year, peace monitoring body R-JMEC has hinted that making of the permanent constitution is critical for guiding conduct of elections at the end of Transitional Period. Once the Constitution-making Process Bill 2022 becomes law, the unity government will put in place all the institutions essential in the making of the new constitution.

The Executive Director for Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, Edmond Yakani said the permanent constitution enactment and population census is a vital prerequisite for the conduct of elections,

“You cannot conduct elections without having the constitution and the requirement for making the constitution come to function is not there because the national (constitutional) review and drafting committee is not yet reconstituted,” he said.

“Are we conducting elections without population census? No. if we are conducting the elections with census, is the country ready to conduct the census in a one-year period of time? Of course, no. Population census normally takes more than two years, so which means we cannot conduct in six years of the second year, of the twenty-four months.” Yakani lamented

The Executive Director for Youth Empowerment Organization, Daniel Mwaka is also skeptical on the leeway of the elections as per the will of the political leaders.

“It is tricky for the conduct of elections, because up to now, we are not one hundred per cent sure that election is going to happen because all the arrangement that needs to be made to ensure that there is credible elections that is going to happen is not yet in place,” said Mwaka.

“If you look at the security arrangement and how the roadmap is being handled, this bring in the question of whether the election will happen or not, in the mind of the citizens is that the majority are not, even the government and the peace partners have not come with clear ways of how it will be conducted.”

Mwaka also highlighted on creation of political freedom and expression for other political parties to be able to reach out to the communities to deliver their manifestoes.

“Political space and security is number one priority to reach out to the ground people to hold out the rallies. If you cannot give your opponent the opportunity to mobilize, and to reach out to the people for the elections, these are the challenges that need to be addressed,” he added.  

A policy analyst with the think tank Sudd Institution, Augustino Ting. Mayai also questioned the possibility of conducting the elections yet the country lacks behind in its quest to hold population and housing census which hinders the prospect of the ballot process.

“It is not a good idea of conducting elections without conducting the census which takes two years nominal,” he said.

On the other hand, David Ayuel, a youth representative at the National Constitution Amendment Committee also weighed the opportunity of the country going to polls in December 2024 in relation to the state of security, the snail pace roadmap implementation and lack of the free civic space for all political parties.

‘Our commission that is going to hold these elections is not experienced to hold credible and democratic elections because some of them have never conducted national elections for an independent country although some of them have conducted general elections in the old Sudan and during the referendum,” he underlined.

The Acting Press Secretary in the office of the first vice president, Pouk Both Baluang said the implementation of the roadmap has been challenged by its delay which hangs around the capacity of the president. He has urged the president to gear the process to get prepared for the elections.

Ayuel reiterated that the electoral commission needs to be empowered on how to hold elections as well as the security forces to be oriented on free and fair elections.

President Salva Kiir Mayardit who has been in charge of the affairs of the country for over a decade earlier said that South Sudan will hold elections next year.

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